Film Reviews

Wuhan Wuhan review. Dir: Yung Chang (2021)

“Every single emotion you have is normal. The mental can affect the physical.”

Wherever you are on the Planet, you’ll be conscious of the last year, living beneath the cloud of Covid-19 and the adjustments we’ve frequently made in our day-to-day lives. While I wasn’t sure if I was fully ready to explore the depths of how the virus has shaken other parts of the world, so precisely, Wuhan Wuhan was hard to resist. We all know the origins, in some form, but we’ve also heard of how they managed it, and all the stories that go with that.

Directed by Yung Chang, his documentary was different to what I expected but in an intelligent way. It’s a truly reflective look into the city, a selection of its people and a reminder of how far and wide this hit the lives of everyone. Filmed two months in the lockdown there, that’s February 2020, it’s also a recap of how quickly they responded to the crisis. Whether this was coming from the experience of the SARS outbreak in 2003, or just the fact China always feels more prepared, I can’t answer but I was impressed by the collaboration from the people of Wuhan, taking the letter of the law to its word, staying indoors and generally only allowing hospital workers to move across the city, to make sure the vital things kept moving.

In Wuhan Wuhan, Chang and his team of videographers get right into the middle of the outbreak and fallout, and over the film follow a couple expecting a baby, quarantined families living in a temporary shelter (not too unlike the temp hospitals that were made in the UK), medical professionals and even a psychologist trying to help others in a similar position. What’s clear from the documentary is they thought this would pass as quickly as the rest of us, even though our lockdown started far too late, no-one really anticipated it would go on for a year, with vaccines only getting the roll-out now, a medical feat that’s awe-inspiring.

Also, if you think our government was strict, and they were as much as they could be in the early days, it’s interesting to see how tightly controlled it was there. The shots of a dystopian-like city, with clear information on signs and loudspeakers telling people to stay home and think of others were quite chilling but also oddly comforting. In truth, people want to be told what to do, especially when the unknown is as big as this. What’s particularly clear is how we’ve all gone through the same struggles, concerns and fears. I doubt there’s a person in the world who didn’t go through all the emotions at some point, in fact, I can guarantee you all did. If you lived this, you’ll know.

Wuhan Wuhan offers a very candid insight, no more shown in the lives of Yin and his pregnant girlfriend Xu. While the baby is extremely close to being born, Yin has got to get out and work for his own sanity, and takes a job driving medical staff from home to hospital, or wherever they need to go. He is risking his own health, but everyone concerned knows that risk but carry on because it’s for the benefit of others. That commitment, and even sacrifice, of selflessness is exemplary.

Via shots of empty streets and closed shops, we move inside Wuhan’s No. 5 hospital, where we hear stories of patients shouting at staff for help, but also of the 6–7-hour queues of people waiting for CT scans, so they can literally see the condition of their lungs. Much of the latter half of the documentary is in the hospital and it offers an essential reminder of how vital these people are because the volumes of tasks they work through is beyond comprehension but…  they continue to get the job down. I liked how matter of fact some of the hospital staff were with people, some didn’t want to eat or take oxygen but were told directly they needed it to live, and so they responded to the reality. It’s not cruel, it’s empathic control.

To be clear, the film never feels like publicity, there’s an awful lot of honesty, tears and confrontation as well. Where staff and people are pushed to their limits, and voices are loud, but – again – they keep trying to move ahead, like we all have. It isn’t just intensity though, it’s also bittersweet and funny along the way. The couple we follow have a funny relationship but clearly care for each other, the grumpy Grandpa who just says no a lot is dealt with amazingly, showing the patience of the Nurses, even when stressed out and exhausted. I also loved the idea of taking photos of the Doctors and putting their faces on the front of their PPE, so everyone can literally see who they’re dealing with. It’s smart and very human. We see communities helping each other, volunteers, and so much cleaning across the city, people truly coming together to try and get through to an end they can’t see yet.

Wuhan Wuhan is a unique, honest, deeply poignant and personal insight into a historically significant year we’ve all lived through together, and this is a beautifully created documentary about something most of us will never forget. Let’s hope it keeps moving forward, and that people remember that working together, with patience, is one of the best ways to get through any disaster. No matter big or small.

Wuhan Wuhan is screening now at Hot Docs, find out more about the film here:


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