Everything in China is leaning towards the extremes, including the biggest fastest transformation into modernity. Nowhere is the relentless push toward the extreme felt more than in the mind-boggling, humongous scale of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze. To make China's gigantic and impersonal change fathomable and personal, this documentary follows two young adults living in poverty along the Yangtze, and shadows them as they sign up to work on a tourist river boat delivering foreign visitors to the dam. Their story is a remarkable and surprisingly intimate portrait of two ordinary citizens doing what hundreds of millions of their Chinese cohorts are doing -- getting a job. Neither protagonist in this film is even particularly likeable or heroic, which makes their lives all the more real. Their faults and failures are universal. You get a very clear picture of how wrenching, how abrupt, how enticing these vast changes are. You have only to multiply this exceptional intimacy into two people's struggles by a billion to see the country.
So far, this tiny window is the best picture of big change in China that I've seen.
Up the Yangtze
2007, 93 min.
Rent from Netflix
Available from Amazon