In China, it is simply known as “The River.” But the Yangtze—and all of the life that surrounds it—is undergoing a truly astonishing transformation wrought by the largest hydroelectric project in history, the Three Gorges Dam. Canadian documentary filmmaker Yung Chang returns to the gorgeous, now-disappearing landscape of his grandfather’s youth to trace the surreal life of a “farewell cruise” that traverses the gargantuan waterway. With Altmanesque narrative agility, a humanist gaze and wry wit, Chang’s Upstairs Downstairs approach beautifully captures the microcosmic society of the luxury liner. Below deck: A bewildered young girl trains as a dishwasher—sent to work by her peasant family, who is on the verge of relocation from the encroaching floodwaters. Above deck: A phalanx of wealthy international tourists set sail to catch a last glance of a country in dramatic flux. The teenaged employees who serve and entertain them—now tagged with new Westernized names like “Cindy” and “Jerry” by upper management—warily grasp at the prospect of a more prosperous future. Singularly moving and cinematically breathtaking Up The Yangtze gives a human dimension to the wrenching changes facing not only an increasingly globalized China, but the world at large.
Read M. Faust's review of Up The Yangtze in the January 14th issue of Artvoice.
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