Last Train Home
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Every spring, China's cities are plunged into chaos as an astonishing 130 million migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year's holiday. This mass exodus is the largest human migration on the planet - an epic spectacle that reveals a country tragically caught between its rural past and industrial future.
Working over several years in classic verité style Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan (with the producers of the hit documentary Up the Yangtze) travels with one couple who have embarked on this annual trek for almost two decades. Like so many of China s rural poor, Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin left behind their two infant children for grueling factory jobs. Their daughter Qin - now a restless teenager - both bitterly resents their absence and longs for her own freedom away from school, much to the utter devastation of her parents.
Emotionally powerful and starkly beautiful, the multi-award-winning Last Train Home's intimate observation of one fractured family sheds unprecedented light on the human cost of China's economic 'miracle'.
- Stunning new anamorphic transfer, created from HD elements
- Deleted Scenes from Guangzhou Train Station
- Travelogue: Guang'an to Shenzhen City
- U.S. Theatrical Trailer
Like Which Way Home, the documentary that tracks impoverished Latin American kids precariously train-hopping up to America, director Lixin Fan's cinéma vérité-style documentary Last Train Home also uses trains--this time in China--as a metaphor delineating class to promote viewer understanding of social hardship. Last Train Home tracks the Zhang family, opening with scenes in a clothing warehouse where married couple Changhua Zhang and Chen Sugin work assiduously to support, one discovers through interview footage, their two children living over 1,000 kilometers away. Cut to a rural village, where Zhang's two kids, teenage girl Qin Zhang and her younger brother Yang, pine for the city while their elderly grandmother cares for them. This story of parents arguably forced to leave behind their two infant children serves as a microcosmic example of what is happening to 130 million migrant workers throughout China, and the film chronicles familial efforts to acquire train tickets out of the cities to celebrate the Chinese New Year rurally with relatives. Between takes filming various Zhang family members, shots of the insanely overcrowded Guangzhou train station make the documentary more politically tense, as massive crowds explode with rage and exhaustion trying to fight for tickets then board packed trains for sweaty rides home. As much as Last Train Home chronicles the Zhang parents toiling behind sewing machines or washing their feet in the cubby they call living quarters, while their kids back home pick corn and otherwise work a small garden, the film is obviously about the larger issue surrounding split families and lack of income among China's rural working poor. The film is beautifully shot, maintaining its respect and sensitivity towards its subjects throughout, though it's careful not to glamorize with slick scenic footage what is far from a glamorous cultural problem. Heated familial arguments break out, as Qin decides against her parents' will to forge ahead with an urban warehouse career of her own, and one may come away with a sense of despondence for the overwhelming amount of difficulty the documentary's subjects experience daily. But like any of the finest sociopolitical films, Last Train Home presents a gray scale between the black and white of its topical coverage, with several charming and funny moments, proving that the resiliency of the Zhang family can, too, act as stand-in for how millions of others undoubtedly roll with the punches. --Trinie Dalton
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“There are a million stories in the Naked City, and this is just one,” introduced a famous television series from a half century ago. That was fiction; this is true documentary describing the plight of a rapidly modernizing China where today (2015) over 200 million countryside families are split up. Many of China’s rural parents seek a better life in the factories, sending back most of the money they earn to the grandparents raising their children. The pathos this causes to families and society at large is well-depicted in this matter-of-fact documentary spanning three years in the life of a rural family from Sichuan Province who work most of the year in the factories of southern Guangdong Province. It is at the annual Spring Festival time that all Asian families get together, settle debts, honor elders, and celebrate family. At this time, the transportation infrastructure of China is stressed to the limit. I avoid traveling in China at this time, and the views of the massive crush in this documentary will reinforce why only the Chinese can manage this massive migration.
The story begins in the Winter of 2006 with the parents working in a sweatshop factory and attempting to buy train tickets. Only children and the elderly are left back on the village in Sichuan, 2 days travel by train to the north and west, or a week by bus. Finally they secure 2 tickets for 262 yuan or about $45. From the train, they depart on a ferryboat and finally by bus. The mother relates leaving to work 16 years earlier, leaving her baby behind, and these once-a-year trips are their only connection with their children. The short homecoming time stresses the real Chinese parent preoccupation with pressuring children to study, study, study to have a better future. It is obvious that the children are estranged from their parents. The older girl, at an age that would indicate she would be about a junior in high school decides to herself begin working in Xintang City in Guangzhou, much to her parent's dismay. She has but one girlfriend as she works in the factory. Her father visits the daughter to convince/pressure her to return to school, and they again make the train trip back home. A snowstorm has shut down the electricity in Hunan Province and since the trains run on electricity, this causes a massive train station crowd requiring police and PLA crowd control. After passing through the turmoil at the station, they encounter many riders gripes and stories on the long ride home. At Chongqing, they switch again to ferryboat and arrive home where family arguments continue. The girl provides a prayer in the field to her grandfather who she feels was the only one to care about her, and leaves to work in a nightclub in modern Shenzhen. The 2008 Olympics in China rivet everyone’s attention but is immediately followed by a world recession that shuts down many factories. In the final scenes, the mother buys a train ticket and leaves her husband at the station in order to return home to be in the countryside to care for her son and keep him in school, so he does not follow his older sister.
Since this was filmed, even more rural couples have abandoned the countryside. Some bring their children to the cities where they study in second-rate immigrant schools with poorer-trained teachers. And recent policies have pressured some immigrant schools to close and some immigrants to return home. There is much about Chinese language and customs that a Western viewer may miss. But the Chinese respect, indeed reverence, for education is apparent. So is their “love” for their children and yet, that word is never spoken. The extensive railroad network, bridges and tunnels, are impressive if a viewer looks beyond the melodrama. But even with the scale of the genuine train station scenes, it is hard for a Westerner to comprehend that this separation of families is a dilemma that is being repeated over 200 million times in China!