A tale of two global economies, Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home probes the questionable fusion of China’s mix of communism and capitalism on those likely to suffer most under its impact – the rural poor migrating to toil in the foreign owned factories in the cities. Let’s just say that while an urban sector of the population has financially thrived under the new market economy, for the 130 million migrants at the bottom of the food chain, it’s been more a problematic combination of oil and water.
Fan (Up The Yangtze), who formerly worked in television in China and now resides in the United States, framed his three year inquiry into the lives of migrants employed in the foreign owned factories by focusing on typical family, the Zhangs. While the parents have worked the year round for urban manufacturers in Guanzhou for nearly two decades while living in squalor in factory barracks, they like the millions of other migrants are able to return home only once a year, for the most important of holidays, New Year’s.
The problem is that those 130 million migrants are all headed home at the very same time, creating beyond the imagination mass chaos at the woefully comparatively few available scheduled trains. And Fan and his crew stake out not just the intolerable cramped living conditions in the factory zones, but the frustrating in the extreme days long lines at the stations waiting for either a ticket home or a chance to even board the standing room only trains.
Fan’s ambitious investigative inquiry is eye opening indeed, but perhaps a case of too much on one’s plate to thoroughly digest. Switching themes repeatedly among the factory floors, living barracks, trains stations and tense intimate rural family settings – where rebellious teen Zhang Qin, feeling resentful and neglected, openly disrespects her well meaning parents for the cameras – may be a case of spreading these episodes too thin while setting out to cover far too much territory at one time.
Last Train Home sheds a raw yet compassionate spotlight on the ways in which public policy in radical transition can impact indifferently and mercilessly on the personal lives of its people. But what may have provided more clarity is what we don’t see in assessing the material at hand. Above all, the foreign factory owners, who curiously escape the otherwise uncompromising camera’s eye.
3 [out of 4] stars