June 18, 2012

Movie : Last Train Home (2009)

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:28 pm

This is a movie, but more correctly, a documentary marketed as a movie.

This movie is about the immigrant population of China, which lives in towns in China due to the demand for labour in the cities and their living conditions and the struggle they go through.

The movie stays away from the controversial rights issue – how the rural population, who comes in search of the jobs is denied the education and other rights accorded to the recognized city population – the infamous Hukou permit system. It simply sheds life on the miserable living conditions of the people in cities vs the improvement of life due to the money sent home by these people back to their rural communities.

This follows a family of five, to drive home the point and also personalize the experience. Changua Zhan, the father who travels to the city every year to stay for most of the year in a sweatshop. His wife Sugin Chen, who joins him there, the grandmother Tingsui Tang who is left back at home and who looks after Qin Zhang, a girl of 14 and Yang Zhang, a boy of about 8.

The father and mother go through enormous hazard every year to get the tickets to go back home, and ‘home’ is about 3000 km away in another province! The travel is sometimes standing room only, sometimes the trains are cancelled without notice and the milling crowd (which looks like a huge congregation assembled for the funeral of an international dignitary) waits uncertainly, pushing, shoving, and barely under control, the police struggling to keep some kind of order.

The personal travails of the family is the other side of the coin, where the grandmother brings up the kids. The life they lead is a poor person’s life, but without the money sent by the factory worker parents, they would be much more impoverished. The parents are so out of touch with the kids since they come only once a year, that the kids have no bonding with them and the elder kid even prays at Grandpa’s grave for the parents to go away. The father says to the mother that they run out of things to say when they go home.

The constant refrain of everyone to the kids is “You should study hard, or you will end up like us” from the parents and the grandparents, and when the elder kids chooses to work in a factory rather than continue school, the parents are very disappointed.

The kid shouts at the camera at one specific time after a family fight that turns physical: “You wanted to film me as I am, right? Look! This is the real me!”.

Still, the movie drags in many places and you get a sense of déjà vu when the same scenes are repeated with minor variations. We get what it is to go home every year in the peak season, and to see them do it at least three times is like watching the same movie again. Sometimes, the movie has the look of the New Age Movie, less substance and more visuals and mundane themes, so you frankly get bored part of the time.

Interesting subject, but could have had a much better narration.


I will give it a 3/10


— Krishna


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