'Iron Moon': Film Review

Iron Moon Still - H - 2016
A moving depiction of art transcending life.

Qin Xiaoyu's and Wu Feiyue's documentary profiles several Chinese migrant workers who express their hopes and fears through poetry.

Some 350 million laborers keep China's economy running, and a handful of its more downtrodden ones get a voice in Qin Xiaoyu's and Wu Feiyue's affecting documentary about migrant workers who use poetry to express their hopes, fears and frustrations. That one of the film's subjects is Xu Lizhi — a 24-year-old worker at the Apple manufacturing factory Foxconn who committed suicide in 2014 by jumping off the massive building — lends Iron Moon a genuinely elegiac air.

The film profiles a quartet of worker-poets who, because of fear of government reprisal, publish and perform their work under assumed names. They include Wu Niaoniao ("Blackbird"), who struggles to find employment after losing his job as an assembly-line worker; Wu Xia ("Dawn"), a garment-factory worker who writes a poem addressed to the Western consumer she imagines wearing the sundress that she's sewn; Chen Nianxi ("Lucky"), a demolition worker who continues his job of blowing up mountains for mines rather than return home to see his terminally ill mother; and Lao Jing ("Old Well"), who works on his poetry during his breaks from toiling in a 800-meter-deep coal mine.

Besides observing its subjects going about their daily lives, Iron Moon shows them reading their poetry in various venues. Although their impact is somewhat lessened by having to read them via subtitles, the poems are poignant, deeply personal ruminations that beautifully convey their authors' oppressed lives. The film's title comes from one of Xu Lizhi's poems, "I Swallowed an Iron Moon," that resembles an anguished cry for help.

The film's final section centers on the late poet, and his surviving family members who comment about his and their difficulties surviving in the country's brutal economic environment. That Foxconn was forced to put up netting surrounding the building because of the growing number of its workers who threw themselves off it tells you everything you need to know.

Production: Medoc, Shanghai Eternity
Directors: Qin Xiaoyu, Wu Feiyue
Screenwriter: Qin Xiaoyu
Producer: Cai Qingzeng
Executive producers: Wu Xiaobo, Gong Yu, Bai Yandong, Wang Jianjun
Director of photography: Liu Jinliang
Editor: Zhong Renro
Composer: Chen Weilun
Not rated, 85 minutes