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A luxury cruise boat motors up the Yangtze - navigating the mythic waterway known in China simply as "The River." The Yangtze is about to be transformed by the biggest hydroelectric dam in history. At the river's edge - a young woman says goodbye to her family as the floodwaters rise towards their small homestead. The Three Gorges Dam - contested symbol of the Chinese economic miracle - provides the epic backdrop for Up the Yangtze, a dramatic feature documentary on life inside modern China. Written by
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Nicely done narrative about a poor family -- the rest is backdrop
Don't think that at the end of this film, you will understand the complexities of industrialization and modernization of China. Don't think it will lay out for you the ways in which trade and capitalism exploit (or help, depending on your view) the world's poor.
This film isn't that story. Instead, what we get here is a beautifully drawn and complicated portrait of one poor family, and their ambiguous relationship with the Three Gorges Dam project.
I would argue that the opening quote is very telling -- Confucius offering the three different ways of learning wisdom -- as the film then shows you that the Chinese people are apparently going to have to learn about the wisdom or not of modernization (at the expense of fulfillment and connection to nature) for themselves, rather than reaping the benefits of others' experience.
But that's my take on it, based on my value judgments as a person. The joy in this movie is that you can decide how the Confucius quote applies for yourself. The story isn't simple, and the filmmaker doesn't hit you over the head with some narrowly tailored point. Instead, it shows that the real world is interwoven in ways that don't always make easy moral judgments.
And ultimately, this is a movie about a family. It's a human narrative, and all the other themes are simply woven in as a beautiful backdrop.
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