Young & Restless in China: Red Curtan Gen-Xers


As China makes the headlines daily with each new threat of an Olympic boycott, doc filmmaker Sue Williams (Frontline: China in the Red) might believe that her four-year survey of Chinese Gen-Xers is being released at an opportune time—but, if anything, the coincidence will only remind the news literate that her story places China’s neglect for human rights in the background. In 2004, Williams and her crew began filming nine ordinary souls across the country, including a handful of upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, migrant workers, an activist lawyer suing for harmful power-line construction, and a hip-hop street performer turned DJ (the latter a justification for a Chinese pazz-and-jop soundtrack). Straining for depth in depicting the “surprising twists and turns of their lives . . . stories of ambition, conflict, love and confusion [that] took us inside the generation that is transforming China” (as excessively narrated throughout by ER‘s Ming Wen), Williams’s multi-thread portrait is fascinating only as a scattershot, time-capsule sampling of those whose lives were defined by the Tiananmen Square protests. It isn’t that her integrity should be questioned, but for a film that assumes its audience is cultured enough to know of the Chinese government’s abuses, why condescend by giving the subjects clueless English voiceovers instead of subtitles when many of them speak of how they’ve Westernized in order to succeed?