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China Revisited: Two Sisters Journey Home

200?
Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Lana Pih Tse Ping Jokel
Directed by Lana Pih Tse Ping Jokel
VHS, color, 56 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Asian Studies, China


Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Recommended with reservations   
 
Date Entered: 5/18/2007

Filmmaker Jokel takes viewers to mainland China for a visit she and her sister made decades after they and their parents left in the wake of the Communist takeover. Born in Shanghai to a wealthy family, but raised in Hong Kong and, later, Brazil, and educated in the United States, Ms. Jokel starts the trip with trepidation, not knowing what she will find. Her journey is idiosyncratic and the film suffers from lack of structure or any unifying theme that could lift it beyond its obvious function as a pleasant record of the trip.

The film can be divided into two parts. The first segment shows Ms. Jokel in Shanghai and its surroundings with relatives who remained in China. Although there are shots of some tourist attractions she visits, we also view areas of this cosmopolitan city that may not be seen often in the West?beautiful residential neighborhoods and parks, malls, shops, and restaurants where today’s affluent city dwellers live and play. Ms. Jokel and her sister meet and talk with a favorite aunt, now 90 and in frail health, living in a seedy neighborhood but unwilling to move, as well as with cousins who show them the sights. Conversations are in Chinese, with English subtitles that remain on the screen too briefly for comfort. The second segment is a personal travelog from Shanghai to Beijing, with brief views of the Forbidden City, Great Wall, and other sites of interest. The film ends with a wistful shot of a young woman who looks much like Ms. Jokel probably did at her age. The narrator wonders what her own life would have been like had she remained in China and what the life of this young woman will be like there now.

Throughout the film, Ms. Jokel narrates the story, sometimes describing memories of a person or a place, sometimes conversing with relatives, sometimes relating bits and pieces of the history of the place being shown on the screen. Her sister is practically invisible. No cohesive structure is evident and none binds the parts of the piece together, making it less valuable as a teaching tool. It is a mishmash of memoir, tourism, recent history, current events, and biography. It might be useful in a course focusing in detail on today’s Shanghai, but it is difficult to imagine the contribution it can make to other types of studies.

The camera work is good, although there are long segments that appear devoid of color. It is hard to tell whether bad lighting washed out the color or those scenes were shot in black and white. A small number of photographs and archival scenes are interspersed with the liveaction. The audio is uneven, at times sharp and clear, but at other times muffled and too soft to be understood easily. The editing is good but not exceptional, and the pace is acceptable.

Recommended with reservations due to its lack of educational focus.