A luxury cruise boat motors up the Yangtze, navigating the mythical waterway known in China simply as "The River". In the biggest engineering endeavour since the Great Wall, China has set out to harness the Yangtze with the world's largest mega-dam. Meanwhile at the river's edge Yu Shui says goodbye to her family and turns to face the future. From their small patch of land, her parents watch the young woman walk away, her belongings clutched in a plastic shopping bag. The waters are rising. The Three Gorges Dam, gargantuan and hotly contested symbol of the Chinese economic miracle, provides the epic and unsettling backdrop for Up the Yangtze, a dramatic and disquieting feature documentary on life inside the 21st century Chinese dream. The film juxtaposes the poignant and sharply observed details of Yu Shui's story against the monumental and ominous forces at work all around her. Among the two million losing their livelihood to the dam, the Yu family must send their daughter off to work. In a bitter irony she's been hired by Farewell Cruises, part of the strange apocalyptic tourist trade that thrives along the river, offering a final glimpse of a legendary world before it disappears forever. Life onboard mirrors the hierarchy of the wider world. Western passengers take in the spectral views, consuming entertainment on the spacious upper decks, while Yu Shui toils in the galley down below, vying with workmates for the few permanent positions.
Yung Chang is a Canadian film-maker based in Montreal. He has a degree in film production from Montreal's Concordia University and has studied the Meisner technique at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse. His first documentary film, Earth to Mouth, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, won praise for its beautifully crafted meditation on food production and migrant labour. He displays a remarkable sense of cinematic storytelling in his first feature-length documentary, Up the Yangtze, in which the contested Three Gorges Dam forms an unsettling backdrop to a richly detailed narrative of life inside contemporary China.