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Up the Yangtze

Leonard Cohen loved this film. Yung Chang described his encounter with Leonard Cohen at the end of this clip below.

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So I got this idea of making a movie about tourists on this Yangtze cruise boat – a kind of Gosford Park idea that shows the social hierarchy, the lives above and below the decks. And I realized that the people working on the boat were all from the Yangtze area, and that many of their families were affected by the dam.
The other aspect was this sense of apocalyptic journey – something out of Heart of Darkness. It’s a strange landscape of chaos and decay – like the photos of Edward Burtynsky. It’s very ghostlike along the river – hazy and grey and difficult to see long distances. Then we visited the Ghost City itself – Fengdu – famous in Chinese mythology as the site of the Gates of Hell. In my mind, the Three Gorges Dam became the Gates of Hell. There were so many metaphorical layers to explore, so I just went with this idea of a surreal journey up the Yangtze.(Q&A with the filmmaker Yung Chang)

Intervew from Indiewire

I really wanted to approach my film with an Altmanesque/Herzogian cinematic technique. I like using fiction films as reference points. There’s also a natural irony and humor that often permeates through the observation of West and East cultures so it was important not to make an overly heavy doomsday film but to capture those humorous flashes that make a human story all the more real and three-dimensional. Of course, the beauty of documentary is that you’re literally improvising and being spontaneous. You let the environment, your subjects, and the given moment carry you along. There’s no storyboarding. When you’re making a documentary, you shoot a lot of footage in hopes of capturing a few emotional moments.

Collection of critical responses for this terrific film.

Hal was up the Yangtze decades ago.

I would like to see this film. In 1980 I went up the Yantze with my mother and brother. Takes 3 days, Sort of a slow beautiful unfolding. I got to know my tour guide, a very nice Chinese woman that always kept the door open when we talked to each other. She suggested to me, the corruption of the Communist party, she was a party member. Hal Lum (via email)

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