Earthchild // 2011 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 9th, 2011
What Does China's Rise Mean for America? What Doesn't It Mean...
Perhaps, a better title would be The US Question. When his mother decided to go on a personal crusade against products made in the People's Republic of China, filmmaker Brook Silva-Braga wanted to understand what her boycott was all about. At first, he thought it was merely political, wrapped up in concepts like Free Tibet, human rights violations, and growing global nuclear/military threat. But what the wannabe filmmaker soon learned is that his parent's campaign was more about American malaise, about a country so stuck on entitlement and convenience that they would gladly support sweat shops, slave wages, unrealistic trade policies, and cheap Wal-Mart goods, all in the name of sovereign self-destruction. As he points out time and time again in this provocative and sometimes frightening film, the Silva-Braga family are one of the few who care where the United States is headed as part of the world economy -- and the future looks absolutely terrifying.
The China Question does a great job of setting up the sides. On the one hand, you have Asia -- densely populated, on the technological cusp, and clearly imbued with a determined work ethic. Via industrialized concerns and the ability to capitalize on their bevy of cheap labor, the world seeks out their services and makes use of their pennies on the dollar (or Euro, or whatever) discounts. Said savings are then passed on -- to the bottom line, as jobs and other integral social elements disappear from the nation's competitors. Silva-Braga travels the country, revealing how simple start-ups yield million dollar deals, all in the name of saving a buck and building the profit margin. It doesn't matter that a t-shirt concern in Peking will put several thousand workers elsewhere out of business. The Chinese class system -- built on a baffling scheme of birthplace, agriculture vs. urban, and family honor -- encourages the constant flow of fresh workers into its titanic manufacturing machine.
Then there is the US, argued as fat, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned about the disintegrating job market at home. A few remaining competitors sit back in their nearly idle factories and complain that, while people love their sweet land of liberty, they sure aren't willing to pay a few hundred dollars more for a Made in America appliance. Those companies that do make it are existing by the skin of their teeth, trying (and failing) to match China in cost per item and rapid turnaround. As the cargo ship and system are offered as catalysts for such a conversion, we come to a sickening conclusion. In the next half century, China will bury the rest of the world as a national center of global product supply. Sure, the goods might be a bit subpar and built on the backs of those who have little option or choice, but as long as Joe and Jane Sixpack can get their kids' school gear for a song -- or their new flat screen for something similar -- they will continue on such a suicidal crusade.
Because of access to both sides (including workers and upper level officials in China), because of strong central theme (the mother's boycott is very enlightening), Silva-Braga creates a memorable movie experience. It often feels like a Michael Moore documentary without the holier-than-thou pronouncements. The China Question makes it very clear that the last few decades of international business have built a monster against which few countries -- including the US -- will be able to defend. There is no back door. There is no easy way out. Everything is now tied up in foreign policy, personal wealth, world debt, and the sinking feeling that a billion plus people can never be defeated, no matter the theater. As she wanders the aisles of her local shopping center, trying to find goods made somewhere other than China, Silva-Braga's mother becomes the last of a determined breed. She doesn't want to see the US fall to a smarter, savvier power. According to the film, her quest just might be a fool's paradise.
On a side note, it's hard to judge the technical elements here. The film on the disc was offered in a 16:9 aspect ratio with clear Dolby Digital Stereo sound, but it is also a promotional screener, which means this could be far from final product. There are no bonus materials or indication of same.
Not guilty. A shocking and eye opening documentary.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Chinese)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site