As noted in the recent review of 21 Up South Africa, numerous documentary series following the lives of ordinary people over long periods are underway around the world. Based on the landmark British documentary series that has followed 14 Brits since 1964, collectively referred to as the original UP Series, these iterations on a theme vary considerably. Some such as the South African, Japanese, former-USSR, American, and new British series, follow the original formula meticulously. Others including Married in America, Denmark's Årgang 0, the Dutch Bijna Series, France's Que deviendront-ils?, and Young & Restless in China, are variations on the theme.
Young & Restless in China is the first of five documentaries in a proposed series intended to follow the lives of nine mainland Chinese over a twenty-year period. The nine participants selected for Young & Restless in China are 20- and 30-somethings. The group is weighted toward urban professionals and entrepreneurs, but also includes a rural agricultural worker, a migrant factory worker, and a hip-hop artist/DJ.
Filmed on an annual basis between 2004 and 2008, Young & Restless in China captures lives more or less in motion. Consistent with the headlines, the entrepreneurs experience the most dramatic changes on the career path, frequently moving, jumping in and out of ventures, putting in long hours, and trying to find a balance between career and home life. While for the young mother from an agricultural village and the young female migrant factory worker, tension between traditional social custom and emerging personal liberty shape their lives which move along at slower trajectories.
Though Young & Restless in China may feel more weighty when considered in the future as the first film in what will hopefully be a worthy series, as a standalone effort it's lacking. The decision by filmmaker Sue Williams to rely on a dialogue heavy narration slanted toward processing the participants' lives in terms easily digestible by western viewers, together with the decision to use western voice actors to dub over the participants diminishes this film, and will, I suspect, badly date it in years to come.
This release retains the 1.77:1 aspect ratio of the original high-definition video source material, and is enhanced for widescreen viewing. Image quality on the interlaced video is lower than expected with compression artifacts, soft focus and aliasing, but color levels are steady.
The DD 2.0 audio track sounds good with no noticeable dropouts or distortions. All post production sound including narration, voice dubbing, and soundtrack make use of the stereo field. Forced English subtitles appear over those few bits of Mandarin not dubbed into English. Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also provided.
Extras consist of an original promo reel (3:44), and a statement from filmmaker Sue Williams included in the insert.
It may come as no surprise to learn that Young & Restless in China was partially funded by Frontline. With its overemphasis on a structuring narrative, and its use of voice actors to overdub the Mandarin into American English, this film feels like a middle-of-the-pack inclusion in Frontline's collection of documentaries. Readers interested in viewing this film or Sue Williams' prior Frontline documentary China in the Red (2003), will find both available for free streaming on the Frontline website.
Watch it on line or rent it before you buy.