Saturday, February 20, 2010

[SFS Talkies] Up the Yangtze


I had initially thought that I would be watching a National Geographic film about the Yangtze river and the Three Gorges Dam project, and the introductory scene of the film suggested just that, until it dawned upon me that the subject matter goes beyond the mighty river and the world's largest hydroelectric project, and follows something more intimate, that of how a decision made by the powers that be translated to the relative hardship of people directly impacted by that decision.

Any layman would know that with a dam means the rising of waters behind it from accumulation, and the damming of any large river spells disaster for the village and townsfolk which have settled along its banks. 2012 suggested that only China had the means and resources to build those arks in record time, and undoubtedly such a reference holds true in their attempts to relocate millions of people and settlements along the Yangtze, to the detriment of the poor being uprooted from their livelihood, and into the great unknown.

Curiously, with such a massive landscape change, and the inevitable prospect of having everything today buried 175 meters deep under water, it gives rise to opportune river tours aboard luxury cruise ships, and here's where the documentary embarks upon its examination of two main characters, the village girl Cindy, and the arrogant Jerry, both of whom work aboard such a cruise ship, pandering to the whims and entertaining the tourists, most of whom are foreigners wanting to catch a glimpse of a certain aspect of China through the riding down the signature river.

Through the eyes of Cindy and Jerry, the film provides a look at how change has impacted the lives, dreams and hopes of its people, which a funny anecdote told in the film seem to sum it all up pretty nicely, where the road to Capitalism is followed wit the signal light toward Socialism turned on. This cannot be more keenly felt through Jerry, whose arrogance of youth spells his primary dream in life, and that's to make a lot of money, in stark contrast to another group of folks represented by Cindy, the village people who are yearning for the simpler life, but are always getting the shorter end of the stick due the inability to break out of the poverty cycle, made worst now with massive migration programmes that forces them to adapt.

Granted there are enough scenic shots to wow you, and even astonish, such as the "ghost" towns created when the community had to abandon to avoid the eventual flood waters from enveloping its surroundings. I can imagine Atlantis in a smaller scale, brought about by the slow and unavoidable build up of water volume. This is not just a documentary on the river or the dam, but more importantly about the people and how change had been forced unto them. Recommended!

P.S. And a friend shared this with me, containing the aftermath of events covered in the film:

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