Up the Yangtze

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Up the Yangtze
the film's poster
Directed byYung Chang
Produced byMila Aung-Thwin
Germaine Ying-Gee Wong
John Christou
Written byYung Chang
StarringYu "Cindy" Shui
Chen "Jerry" Bo Yu
Narrated byYung Chang
Music byOlivier Alary
CinematographyWang Shi Qing
Edited byHannele Halm
Distributed byZeitgeist Films
Release date
  • 30 September 2007 (2007-09-30) (Vancouver International Film Festival)
  • 8 February 2008 (2008-02-08) (Canada)
Running time
93 minutes
LanguageEnglish and Mandarin

Up the Yangtze is a 2007 documentary film directed by Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang. The film focuses on people affected by the building of the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze river in Hubei, China. The theme of the film is the transition towards consumer capitalism from a farming, peasant-based economy as China develops its rural areas. The film is a co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and Montreal's EyeSteelFilm with the participation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Geographic Channel, P.O.V., SODEC, and Telefilm. The film is being distributed in the USA by Zeitgeist Films. The United Kingdom distributor is Dogwoof Pictures.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The setting of the film is a riverboat cruise ship floating up the Yangtze river. Two young people are the focus of the film as they work aboard the ship. One is a sixteen-year-old girl from a particularly poor family living on the banks of the Yangtze near Fengdu, named "Cindy" Yu Shui. She is followed as she leaves her family to work on one of the cruise ships serving wealthy western tourists at the same time as her family is being forced from their home due to the flooding that accompanied the building of the dam. The film shows her acclimatization to the consumer economy of tourism as well as modern technology of the cruise ships, juxtaposed with her family and other older citizens who are displaced from a rural lifestyle to cities where they must pay for the vegetables they used to grow on their own.

The other main subject is a nineteen-year-old boy from a more prosperous family named "Jerry" Chen Bo Yu. Chen Bo Yu shows a different perspective from Yu Shui as he tries to earn cash on the ship as a porter and singer.

The film is rich in detail about ways of life, dreams, and aspirations, and seeks to provide a view into the reality of modern Chinese life.

Critical reception[edit]

Up the Yangtze was very well received by film critics, and was described as "astonishing" documentary which "refuses to editorialize" by The New York Times.[2] It garnered a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 47 reviews,[3] and a rating of 84 on Metacritic.[4]

The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Ella Taylor of LA Weekly named it the 3rd best film of 2008 (along with Still Life),[5] Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail named it the 7th best film of 2008,[5] and Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail named it the 10th best film of 2008.[5]

Screenings and awards[6][edit]

Festival Award Date
Genie Awards Best Documentary 2009
Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards Best Documentary 2008
Sundance Film Festival Official Selection 2008
Vancouver International Film Festival Best Canadian Documentary 2008
San Francisco International Film Festival Best Feature Documentary 2008
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam Joris Ivens Award Finalist 2008
Toronto International Film Festival Group Canada's Top 10 film 2008
Independent Spirit Awards Best Documentary Nominee 2009


After filming concluded, "Cindy" Yu Shui returned home to finish her education while her family worked odd jobs. The filmmaker Yung Chang published letters indicating that Yu Shui's father had serious eye issues that required surgery and a donation fund was set up.

In 2010, Yung gave further updates on the Yu family, indicating that they were doing much better, with an apartment with television and a refrigerator.[7]

See also[edit]

  • Bing'ai, a 2007 documentary film about a Chinese woman who refuses to relocate during the building of the Three Gorges Dam


  1. ^ Afan, Emily Claire (19 November 2010). "Dogwoof acquires NFB docs". Playback. Archived from the original on 28 April 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  2. ^ Holden, Stephen (25 April 2008). "A Visit to Old China, Before It Drowns". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 June 2008.
  3. ^ "rottentomatoes.com". Archived from the original on 21 September 2008.
  4. ^ "metacritic.com". Archived from the original on 13 September 2008.
  5. ^ a b c "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2 January 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2009.
  6. ^ Chang, Y. "Yung Chang Resume". Retrieved on November 16, 2019 from https://www.dgc.ca/cv_en/get/3281.
  7. ^ "PBS POV Blog". Archived from the original on 27 September 2013.

External links[edit]