Up the Yangtze (2007)

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Released 4-Mar-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Deleted Scenes
Additional Footage-Home Videos
Additional Footage-Demo Material
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 93:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Yung Chang

Madman Entertainment
Starring Yung Chang
Jerry Bo Yu Chen
Campbell Ping He
Cindy Shui Yu
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Olivier Alary

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by reflection, which is noblest;
second, by imitation, which is easiest;
and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius - Opening Quote from Up the Yangtze

The Three Gorges Dam project serves as a prime metaphor for modern China - huge, impressive and determined to drive onwards into the future irrespective of the personal cost. One of the largest engineering projects ever, it not only saw the creation of a source of renewable energy of staggering utility (planned to provide about 10% of Chinas energy needs) but also required the forced migration of two million people from the banks of the Yangtze as the mighty river rose to submerge entire townships.

Canadian Chinese director Yung Chang returns to the land of his grandfather and finds the landscape forever changed. The film embraces the Confucian precept above and , it seems, China is learning the hard way.

The documentary Up the Yangtze is the result of his metaphorical voyage of rediscovery.

Instead of facts and figures Chang turns his gaze on two young people who are themselves symbols of modern China. Shui Yu is a young girl from a rural poor background. Her parents cannot afford to send her to high school. Though the decision saddens them it hits Yu much harder. She is destined to work until she brings in enough money to allow her to be educated. Yu's family live in a self-built hut on the banks of the river and are facing the inevitability that the mighty Yangtze will soon swallow them up. The Government has offered a home further up the hillside but the reality is that the Yu's will no longer be able to grow their own food - life will get even more difficult.

Bo Yu Chen has no such worries. He is the son of a middle class city family. A pampered single child Chen looks at the requirement to enter the workforce as a way of rising above his peers. He is cocky, arrogant and maybe heading for a fall.

The stories of these two young people intersect as they join the crew of a luxury cruise ship which travels up and down the mighty river entertaining Westerners. The film is part humour as we see the young charges learning the finer points of English and part drama as they begin to catch a drift of the indefinable sense that the world is changing around them and they can't stop it.

The cruise ship is a microcosm and a pecking order. Yu ,called Cindy for Westerners on the ship, is a glum little kid who has to pay her dues by washing pots before she is allowed anywhere near the passengers. Chen, now called Jerry, is a porter who allows his good looks and natural confidence carry him along, and carry him too far, as he seeks to rise to the top of the tree.

Up the Yangtze is a remarkable documentary not least because it takes a slice of real life and lets the story develop without apparent interference. The characters are acutely detailed and dissected and some scenes play out like the finest of Hollywood reality television (and I mean that in a good way). When Yu's parents are invited onto the ship and meet the exalted staffing director, Yu can barely conceal her shame at their dirty peasant garb. It recalls Great Expectations when big city Pip is visited by the poor blacksmith Joe.

Up the Yangtze is a fine work of documentary filmmaking as it takes us into a foreign world and manages to convey the pure humanity of the situation without gloss or fakery. As the river rises and the Yu shack gets swamped we can't help but feel that something more than a ramshackle hut is drowning. A great companion piece for the film Manufactured Landscapes.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality



Up the Yangtze was filmed on Digital Video. It has been transferred to DVD at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

Anyone looking for high definition wonders should check out Wild China instead, this is a fairly raw, direct looking film.

There is a fair degree of digital noise present throughout and the film lacks sharpness. None of this should deter any viewer from what is, in fact, a beautifully shot and artistically rendered film. Chang and cameraman Yang Shi Ding compose their interiors as to give a real fly-on-the-wall quality and their exteriors, frequently of the muddy waters and imposing hillsides, are beautiful but unsettling. The colours are nicely presented.

Chang narrates the film in English but there are subtitles for all the Chinese language dialogue. They are clear and easy to read.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Up the Yangtze carries a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack running at 224Kb/s.

This is perfectly adequate for the film which consists mainly of observed behaviour and eavesdropping. There are no interviews as such. As a result dialogue shifts in and out and might be difficult for Mandarin speakers to pick up everything.

It was all recorded live so audio sync is not an issue.

There are no technical problems with the soundtrack and surround sound might have assisted with a better presentation of the score but otherwise it is not missed.

The music by Olivier Alary is superb - reflective, moody and deep like the river itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Up the Yangtze carries a small but interesting series of extras.

Deleted Scenes (24.40)

There are a total of 12 deleted scenes. Most assist in fleshing out the story of "Campbell" another young chap from the cruise ship. The scenes are a little bit different in that they are more "direct to camera" as he proudly shows off his house and tells a little about himself. Director Chang took footage of many individuals but decided to focus on the two very different young people.

There are also some more time-lapse shots of the Yangtze swallowing up land which make for mesmerizing viewing.

Home Videos

The home videos, of which there are 4, are brief vignettes of the participants watching the finished product. Although an interesting idea it doesn't really work here as the snippets are too short and disjointed.

Interview with Director Chang(1.00) and Up the Yangtze Demo (8.35)

The interview with Chang is far too short although the demo is quite interesting.


Some blurry recent photos of the participants.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2.04)

A good introduction to the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The film has been released on DVD in Region 1 and 2. The release extras detail is thin on the ground but it appears that the deleted scenes are universal as well as the demo and trailer. The home videos appear to be only on our region copy.


    It is rare that a documentary which so acutely identifies the passing of an age and the destruction or at least diminution of a culture should be so subtle and affecting, without histrionics. Up the Yangtze is one of the better documentaries of recent memory and will remain with you for days after watching.

The DVD release looks and sounds appropriate for the source material and the extras are interesting if not exhaustive.

Another excellent documentary to add to your collection.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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