In many ways, life in China is almost incomprehensible to the average American. Lixin Fan’s documentary, Last Train Home, gives us a glimpse, a sometimes disturbing one, of life in China through the lens of one family of migrant workers.
TV Casualties Rating:
|Run Time: 86 minutes|
|Directed by: Lixin Fan
|Starring: Zhang Changhua, Chen Suqin, Qin Zhang|
|Theatrical Release: 09/5/10|
|DVD Release: 2/22/11|
|Production Budget: N/A|
|Domestic Gross: $272,556|
|Metacritic Score: 86/100|
|Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%|
The movie opens with a shot panning across an endless crowd of people – I’d guess in the six figure range – standing outside of a train station in the rain. Every year 130 million migrant workers head home for the Chinese New Year, which, we’re told via text on the screen, is the largest human migration in the world. The subjects of the film, Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin, have been making this annual trek for roughly 20 years – starting when they were just 16 years old and dropped out of school to find work, a decision which they not only regret but seems to consume them – even after 20 years, they bring it up constantly. The couple spends the rest of the year living in a tiny bunk down the hall from the factory where they sew jeans and other garments to be shipped to the Western world.
They arrive home at the family farm to spend time with their 16 year old daughter, 10 year old son and the grandmother that is raising the children with the financial help of the factory money. Their visit is awkward. Spending around 51 weeks a year away at work, they don’t know their own kids very well. Their daughter, Qin, is openly angry at her parents and rebellious. Ironically, and against all the parental advice she’s ever received, Qin drops out and gets a factory job similar to that of her parents. Her parents are confused and upset by her decision. Her mother says, “I’d rather work even harder than have Qin work.”
While there are many differences from American life to be seen, in some ways the similarities are more striking. The first words out of Qin’s younger brother’s mouth when his parents show him the cell phone they bought Qin are, “Does it have games?” During an argument with her mother, Qin says, “I don’t care what you say.” Teen angst and rebellion, it appears, are universal.
If the most important thing in someone’s life is spending time with the people they care about, the economic situation in China has removed this aspect of life almost completely. Last Train Home doesn’t beat this idea over your head, but by the end you realize that’s what it’s all about.