Gateway | Dragons & Tigers
Embedding herself in the village of Wukan, southern China, for several years starting in 2011, first time documentarist Jill Li essayed an unprecedented experiment in local democracy. Corrupt officials had illegally sold villagers’ land, but the villagers decided to fight back.
The documentary is divided into two halves: the first, "Protests", depicts the grassroots activities of Wukan residents as they work to reverse the land sales and gain a substantial measure of control over their local territory. We see how the villagers themselves learn to organize elections, form alliances, and win support. Part two, "After Protests" confronts the collapse of idealism as the newly elected village government finds itself mired in the same kinds of corrupt dealings they had condemned in the leaders they replaced. Li follows three main characters through the six years covered in the film: wise, crafty, complicated Old Lin, who is a protest leader; Hong, who initiated the protests and ultimately emigrated to Trump’s America; and Xing, a young, charismatic activist-photographer.
Li reveals the complexities of their triumphs and setbacks from the inside. Her astonishingly intimate, sympathetic, and fair-minded access to the events’ major players reveals Chinese local politics with three-dimensional passion and energy.
— Shelly Kraicer