DVD Review - Last Train Home

This film got recommended to me by a guy at a forum I post on.  I was intrigued by his description of it, and it was on Netflix, so I thought "Why not?"  I'm glad I did.

A little background.  China has the largest migrant population in the world - 130 million people who follow the work, usually from the farms in the west to the cities in the east to work in clothing or electronics factories.  Last Train Standing follows several years in the lives of Zhang Changhua and his wife, Chen Suqin - migrant workers living in Guangzhou and working in a clothing sweatshop, living in a tiny, run-down apartment.  Each year they travel home to Sichuan to during the Spring Festival to visit their family - including their teenage daughter Qin.  For sixteen years, they see her a couple of days a year, which means they have no relationship with her, and she resents it deeply.

What follows is typical parent-teen struggles - arguments, fights, bitternrss, rebellion. Qin drops out of school and moves to the city herself to work in another sweatshop, trimming threads. Eventually she goes to a different city and gets a job as a waitress in a nightclub, while her parents worry about their 17 year old daughter. Suqin considers moving home to take care of their younger son.

What is really striking about this documentary is the fact that even though there is sparse dialogue,and it's all in Chinese, I resonated with the struggles of these parents.  They live away from home and family, in abject poverty and despair, and yet, have hope for the future of their children. There are some difficult and uncomfortable moments here. Changhua gets into a violent fight with Qin at one point. You watch the Zhangs living their meager life, wondering why they put up with all they do.  They seem little better off then if they had just stayed on the farm.  Their family is falling apart. Yet, they have one another, and that bond is strong.

All in all, a worthwhile film, leading to understanding of universal struggles and (for me) an unfamiliar culture.


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