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China on Film: The New Millennium [6 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Last Train Home
Changhua Zhang and Suqin Chen are a couple from a rural village in China's Sichuan province. Frustrated with their lack of employment opportunities, they traveled to the industrial city of Guangdong and took jobs with a large textile firm, making clothing for export. However, Changhua and Suqin were not able to bring their two children with them, and since then the kids have been raised by their grandparents, with their mother and father staying in touch though occasional telephone calls. The only time they have a chance to see their now-teenage children is during China's annual New Year's celebration; they are among the 130 million Chinese whose work keeps them away from their families and make the trip home during the holiday, resulting in an overcrowded rail system as the trains struggle to keep up with the rush. Filmmaker Lixin Fan follows Changhua and Suqin over the course of several years in the documentary Last Train Home, as the couple makes the long journey home (over a thousand miles) only to find that their family is slowly falling apart -- 16-year-old Qin and her younger brother, Yang, are all but strangers now to their parents, and the youngsters have come to resent their parents, while Qin considers leaving school to move to the city on her own and get a job. Last Train Home received its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The World
Chinese writer/director Jia Zhang Ke's The World is his fourth feature, but it's his first set in a major city, and the first film he's made with the cooperation of the Chinese government. The World is set at the eponymous amusement park in Beijing. Tao (Zhao Tao, who played the Mongolian King girl, Qiao Qiao, in Jia's Unknown Pleasures) is a dancer at the park, which contains scale replicas of landmarks from around the globe. "The Twin Towers were bombed on September 11," says Taisheng (Chen Taisheng), a security guard, proudly, pointing to a miniature New York City skyline, "but ours are still here!" Tao is dating Taisheng, who, like her, moved to Beijing from the provinces for work years earlier. Taisheng thinks Tao is just stringing him along until she finds somebody better, so he gets involved with another woman, Qun (Wang Yi-qun), who makes her living creating knockoffs of Western fashions. Xiaowei (Jing Jue), another dancer, also dates a security guard at the theme park. Niu (Jiang Zhong-wei) is extremely jealous and possessive, and constantly demands to know where Xiaowei spends her time. Youyou (Xiang Wan), who also performs at the park, is secretly dating the boss. When a group of Russian performers comes to work at the park, Tao befriends one of them, despite the language barrier. Friends of Taisheng arrive from the provinces, desperate for work. One of them is injured in a construction accident. The characters often communicate through text messages, which Jia displays in animated sequences. The World was shown by the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the 2004 New York Film Festival. ~ Josh Ralske, Rovi

China Heavyweight
Documentary filmmaker Yung Chang follows dedicated boxing coach Qi Moxiang on his mission to shape promising athletes from rural China into Olympic pugilists. Paralleling the story of the young Olympic hopefuls is that of their 30-something coach, who himself is training for an upcoming fight that, if won, will restore his honor in the ring. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

The Turandot Project
In 1997, orchestra leader Zubin Mehta, long noted for his fondness for unusual and challenging projects, had an idea to stage a new version of Puccini's opera Turandot. While the opera is set in China during the Ming Dynasty, Mehta's desire was to stage a version that relied less on outmoded stereotypes and more on the realities of life in China during that period. Working with Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, Mehta staged an acclaimed new production of Turandot in Italy. A year later, Mehta and Yimou began an even more ambitious plan -- to bring their Turandot to China, where it would be performed with a massive cast of Italian and Chinese performers on an outdoor stage at the fabled Forbidden City. In The Turandot Project, documentary filmmaker Allan Miller captures the long and often difficult process by which Puccini's opera was brought back to the land that inspired it -- and the considerable culture shock both the Italian and Chinese artists suffered along the way. The Turandot Project was shown at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Up the Yangtze
Director Yung Chang uses the construction of China's massive Three Gorges Dam as a springboard to better understanding the social hierarchies and changing times in his homeland in this documentary focusing on the luxury cruise ship that carries predominately Western tourists down the Yangtze River. Constructed as a symbol of modern progress in China, the Three Gorges Dam has forced millions of common people out of their ancestral homes, and will soon swallow up numerous nearby towns and villages. Despite the fact that the government has funded alterative housing for the dislocated families, however, many citizens make their way to higher ground feeling as if they have been duped by the powers that be. In order to truly understand how this affects the people, Chang focuses on telling the stories of middle-class scion Chen Bo Yu (renamed "Jerry" by the cruise line) and Yu Shui (who answers to the call of "Cindy" while on duty). As the ship sets sail, this hard-working pair do their best to familiarize themselves with Western social cues, striving to perform to the best of their abilities, and ponder the prospects of a brighter future. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Young & Restless in China
The Chinese economy grew at a fantastic rate in the first years of the 21st century, offering new possibilities but also presenting new challenges to its people, and filmmaker Sue Williams offers a portrait of a nation in flux as she chronicles the lives of a handful of people in their twenties and thirties in this documentary. Lu Dong and Ben Wu are two people who left China seeking greater opportunities and later came home to take advantage of the nation's booming economy, and though both have found success -- Lu founded a clothing company and Ben runs an Internet coffee shop -- they've also discovered how hard it is to keep up in China's newly fast-paced society. Xu Weimin was a student activist during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989, but he turned his back on politics to become an entrepreneur, opening a chain of hotels while looking after his ailing mother and combative family. Zhang Jingjing is another activist who has become a legal advocate for the homeless, a job that's become especially difficult with a million and a half people in Beijing left with nowhere to live thanks to construction for the 2008 Olympics. Zhang Yao is a doctor who tries to find the time and resources to care for the nearly three-quarters of the Chinese population without health insurance. And Wang Xiaolei is a hip-hop artist whose verses cast a cynical eye on the rise of capitalism in China. Young & Restless in China was aired by PBS as part of the news and public affairs series Frontline. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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