Plastic China


Still from Plastic China (2016). Image from source.

By: Kelly FitzGerald

Set in an unnamed rural Chinese town, Plastic China captures the viscous cycle of poverty through the story of a single family. Though I watched this film in the context of the 2017 Sundance World Documentary competition, director Jiu-liang Wang’s film opens the floor for larger global discussions concerning waste management, recycling, health regulations, and wealth inequalities.

Earning just six-dollars a day, Peng and his family struggle to put food on the table. They can’t even afford bus tickets back to their home village in Sichuan. Their lives are built around imported plastic waste, mounds of which tower over their home. In a Q&A with Wang following the screening, it was noted that over one-million tons of plastic waste were exported from California in 2011 alone.



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Still from Plastic China (2016). Image from source.

Peng’s daughter, 11-year-old Yi-Jie, dreams of attending school, but faces the chore of having to care for her younger siblings while her parents both work. She understands that her family relies on her as a helping hand, so she denies the truth of her dream on multiple occasions as she selflessly puts her family’s well-being first. One of the most memorable images of the film—apart from the disturbing plastic landscape—pictures young Yi-Jie cutting and arranging clippings of Western products from magazine advertisements she finds in the piles. She crafts collages of shoes she dreams to own, cars, makes art from food wrappers, and even builds a plastic play-computer with her siblings. The realization that Yi-Jie fantasizes (and even feels guilty) about owning the items we take for granted—shoes, a car, a computer…—is beyond heart-wrenching. It’s disgusting.

Beautifully shot and seamlessly edited, Wang’s Plastic China evokes sympathy of the rawest kind. Tyler Strickland’s score adds yet another arc to the emotional roller-coaster, as mentioned in a review from Screen Daily. Though explicit in capturing the horrors of the Peng’s lifestyle —including frames of the children playing beside empty containers labeled “toxic waste,” melted plastic sludge, and owner Kun’s bulging tumors—the most moving moments are those which depict the guilt in Yi-Jie’s eyes for wanting a better life. She literally lives at the crossroads of over-consumption and poverty: forced to endure a life afforded through the very source of her suffering. The reality, voiced by Mr. Peng, is that families like theirs “have no choice.”

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Still from Plastic China (2016). Image from source.

Impossible to watch without shedding a tear, Plastic China effectively disturbs the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that we are all too familiar with. Wang burns the images of man-made problems into the eyes of his audience, occasionally lightening the mood by sprinkling in laugh-worthy moments. If every politician, corporation, and consumer were lucky enough to experience this film, I believe it could spark some change—or at least open some eyes.

You can see the official trailer here.

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11 Responses to Plastic China

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Wow, I was blown away with your description of the film in class, and after seeing the pictures, I know that I need to see Plastic China. This movie looks extremely interesting. I can imagine I would cry the entire time, but it gives perspective on a world unlike anything we’ve experienced. Where can I find this film to rent? -Caitlin Herlihy

    • I did a quick search online but can’t find much. I assume it will be released once it is bought out — it might still be in the festival circuit. It is originally in Mandarin so look for English subtitles! It will certainly change your perspective on the world.

  2. mediaphiles says:

    After you described it in class I immediately googled it to read more into it, and after reading this I want to see it even more. I liked how you mentioned the impact it has had on you since seeing it and how you feel bad when you use plastic materials now, and I think any movie that can change your perspective on the world for the better is definitely worth watching.

    -Max Lissette

  3. mediaphiles says:

    This film sounds incredible! I can’t wait for it to get a wide release or come out online. Your description of the film paired with the images makes it sound incredibly powerful. I think your description of how the film the affected you was important to include. Thank you for bringing this film to our attention.

    -Walker Rise

  4. mediaphiles says:

    After reading your blog post I went and watched the trailer and even that was powerful enough to bring me to tears. I look forward to watching the film in the future. I truly cannot believe all the plastic I consume everyday. When I think about so far today I have thrown away a Starbucks lid, a salad container and a chip bag. All of these will end up somewhere to be dealt with other people. It’s unfathomably sad.

    Katherine Naylor

  5. mediaphiles says:

    wow just another thing that I or even we take for granted in our everyday lives. this seems like one of those films that after you watch it you get that gut feeling that you need to start making an impact in the world and helping other. I feel like this film is very eye opening this will be on my list when it comes out ill take a break from my gangster films.
    -Dez Wortham

  6. mediaphiles says:

    very well written. This reminds me so much of when I lived in Haiti for a time, and in the capital, and all over really, there were just sludge rivers filled with trash. It was really heart breaking to see how there are so many places on our planet that are just destroyed by waste. It is good that there are people who want to bring these things to light though.


  7. mediaphiles says:

    There’s a similar documentary that really hit home for me. I’ll describe it in a minute. There’s so much poverty in the world and we don’t see it because of the privilege we live in. Films like this are so important. I watched a 20 minute documentary that I don’t remember the name of. It was set in Manila, Philippines, but these people lived inside of old mausoleums. Children were running around playing with bones, and the adults got the only jobs they could by clearing out old graves for new buyers. It was so terrifying, and your description of Plastic China instantly reminded me of it.

    Russell Lawrence

  8. mediaphiles says:

    Kelly, thank you for bringing my attention to this film. I will be sure to make my way to viewing it. It is absolutely a hard fact to admit, but we do live in a world of consumption, and I am guilty of it. As many times as I can state that, “ignorance is not bliss”, it does not change the fact that, while intentionally or unintentionally, many of my actions do not make me bat an eye, yet they have outstanding consequences. I truly appreciated your commentary Kelly.

    -Luke Dellorso

  9. mediaphiles says:

    After reading your blog post I went and watched the trailer and it reminded me of the film DIVE! The film is about people who dumpster dives for food that grocery store throw out for many reason. and after watching the film it made me want to dumpster dive myself. You save tons of money and the food is still in good condition. I may have to check this film out when I have some free time.

    – John Armstrong

  10. mediaphiles says:

    You mentioned this film the other day in class, and I’m really glad you wrote about it. I will definitely be watching this! It sounds so amazing and eye-opening. You did a great job of describing the film and sharing your response to the film. I’m really looking forward to watching the film now!

    Catherine Maier

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