Sue Williams perceives China as a country of young and restless people grappling with the complexities of love, freedom, and their social economy, laying out her thesis and following through on it with all the bludgeoning gusto of a high school history paper. The director, who’s spent much of her film career autopsying the history and society of China, profiles a diverse group of Chinese citizens, mostly Gen Xers whose opinions were shaped by the political atmosphere of Tiananmen Square, intersecting the twists and turns in their lives and hoping to convey a sense of China as a place with a shifting face. One of her subjects, a businessman, states that it’s hard to do business with the Chinese if you approach them using Western values, a message that seems lost on Williams, whose outsider perspective couldn’t be more glaring. Forgetting that the film strains for a point, Williams succumbs to one of the most odious habits of the documentary filmmaker by having Western voices translate the words of her talking heads, and so the film gives the impression of pandering to the homogenized vernacular of American television, a feeling impacted by the wildly over-descriptive narration by Ming Wen of ER. If Steve Chen, founder of YouTube, isn’t too off the mark when he praises Young & Restless in China for the way it “helps us realize that, in spite of the differences in culture and geography, many of the traits which define us as human beings are universal,” it’s because Williams’s obvious sincerity for her subjects is undermined by a whitewashing aesthetic.
- International Film Circuit
- 107 min
- Sue Williams
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