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The Tone of Dickens and a Startling Window into Milions of Chinese Families,
This review is from: Last Train Home (DVD)
As the world watches mass movements turn long-established structures upside down, we all should be watching the vast sea of families across China that are torn by that great nation's 20th century history, followed by razor-edged economic realities today. "Last Train Home" was shot over several years of painstaking filmmaking by Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan, who earlier worked on the superb "Up the Yangtze (Subtitled)." The film captures major turning points in the lives of a teen-aged girl and her Mom and Dad, a couple making a deal with the economic devil in China to sacrifice their lives in sweatshops to build a brighter future for their children.
Those turning points cluster around the major New Year's festival in China, each year, when 130 million migrants jam rail lines and boats to gather in their family homes. The film's introduction points out that this may now represent the world's greatest annual migration. And, in the first year, we do see the family's modest New Year's feast and fireworks.
Roger Ebert, in his review highly recommending this film, made the point that this story might have been penned by Charles Dickens in the 19th century. That's an apt comparison as we watch lives ground up in sweatshops and children virtually orphaned into a world of predatory forces. I won't spoil the film by detailing too much of what unfolds in their lives, but the major eruption involves the teen-age daughter who supposedly was the bright hope for the family's future. The daughter is pictured on the cover of the DVD, wistfully looking out the window of a train.
There's a scene late in the film when teen-aged laborers at a bar and grill are allowed to stop for a moment to watch the opening of the 2008 Olympics on a big-screen TV. You'll never forget the juxtaposition of these young faces, caught in the midst of their labor, listening to an Olympics narrator crow: "Friends from around the world will marvel at the splendid heritage and the richness of Chinese culture."
Ebert and I are not alone on this. When it was briefly in theatrical release in 2010, the film also received strong recommendations coast to coast, including the New York Times. Want to understand a bit more about China? See this film!