Last Train Home
Winter 2011 Documentary series
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 7:00pm
Directed by Lixin Fan
Starring Changhua Zhan, Yang Zhang and Suqin Chen
Rated PG ·
Canada, China, UK
Last Train Home
In this documentary it is clear that New Year or the Spring Festival is the most important holiday in the Chinese lunar calendar. It remains the last stronghold of Chinese traditions that are withering rapidly with the invasion of new values. Each year (usually in February), hundreds of millions of migrant workers return to their homes from the city to the rural countryside, throwing the transportation system into utter chaos. For many migrants, the cheapest and fastest route home is by train. People camp at railway station for tickets, climb through windows, stand for days and nights, wear diapers to avoid using the lavatory, and struggle to stay in sanity to survive the ride. They are determined to return home at any cost for the solemn purpose of getting back to see their families for this celebration.
The doc follows one family, the Zhangs, who left their ancestral village and their one-year-old daughter to find work in Guangzhou city 16 years earlier. The couple toils in a poorly ventilated, dimly lit garment factory to make money to pay for their daughter’s schooling. The Zhangs never complain because they don’t have a choice. To have her educated is the only way to give the daughter a better life in the future.
Now their daughter is 17, and she only gets to see her parents once a year at the Spring Festival. The rebellious teenager feels lost and neglected since her parents were away all these years. She is convinced that her parents care more about making money than taking care of her. Thus, she quits school, comes down to Guangzhou city, and becomes a young migrant worker, which is exactly what her parents were trying to avoid.
Living in the same city but not talking to each other, the family is shattered by years of misunderstanding. The old tradition of parents making self-sacrifice to better the life of children is brutally challenged by the new social reality. Good will may not always have good result. Nevertheless, hope always sprouts from despair. The mother decides to gather the family and once again embark on this migrant odyssey together and go back home for the Spring Festival. Her mission is to reunite the family and to persuade their daughter to go back to school.
Love and sacrifice hasn’t triumphed for the past 16 years. Will it succeed this time?