COVID-19 has changed the entire world and forced mankind to accept a new norm, one that would have been almost unthinkable just a year and a half ago. Much like it has done to most industries, the global pandemic hit the film industry hard by forcing productions to shut down and causing numerous release delays. However, it has also served as a popular base for content, with a number of COVID-19 related documentaries releasing on various platforms. Director Yung Chang’s latest documentary Wuhan Wuhan joins the ever-growing list of COVID-19 films. But in Chang’s film, we focus on the raw and relatable human emotions during the peak of the pandemic in the birthplace of COVID-19, Wuhan.
Wuhan Wuhan tells the story of nine people in Wuhan from February to March of 2020, during the lockdown and at the height of the pandemic in the Chinese city. This observational documentary tells the story of a young couple, Yin, a volunteer medical driver, and his 37-week pregnant wife, Xu. We also explore the lives of medical workers, Dr. Xiannian Zheng, psychologist Dr. Guiqing Zhang, and an ICU nurse Susu. On the flipside, audiences also get the perspective and struggles of COVID-19 patients Xiuli Liu, her 9-year-old son Lailai, and Grandpa Shen.
The documentary opens with a wonderful array of long shots and aerial shots of Wuhan, which are stunning and incredibly cinematic, capturing your attention and imagination immediately. An important aspect of the opening is the time taken for each shot. Each shot of the city is long, allowing audiences to take in the beauty of the cinematography before slowly realizing the eerie reality of how a population of 11 million is nonexistent as they’re all trapped in their homes. For a brief moment, the fantastic camera work makes it feel like you’re watching I Am Legend or 28 Days Later, that is until we meet Yin and Xu and remember the reality of the world we’re living in.
Chang stated that the objective with Wuhan Wuhan “was to humanise the place,” and thanks to subjects like Yin, that objective is most certainly achieved. Yin and Xu’s relationship not only serves as the core story of the documentary, but Yin is arguably the person that embodies the majority of the world’s feelings and attitude towards this unprecedented situation. Although Yin is kind-hearted, he is flawed, as he cannot stay at home, so he opts to volunteer as a medical driver, despite the fact Xu could have her baby at any moment and is not pleased with his decision. In addition to that, he’s consistently shown seeking clarity from medical professionals by asking them about the state of Wuhan and what the future may hold. Many may find that watching Yin’s journey is like looking in a mirror. His struggles, desire for answers and hope is an all too familiar feeling for many, particularly at the early stages of the pandemic.
In a documentary such as this one, there is always the potential that it can risk feeling mundane after a period of time. However, thanks to Wuhan Wuhan’s wide variety of perspectives and characters, the film will rarely leave you feeling disengaged. Audiences get to see the human struggles of the overworked medical workers like Susu, who is dealing with the pain and anguish of leaving her child behind to help save lives like “Grumpy Grandpa” Shen, who surprisingly brings some humour to the intense story. On the flipside, the incredibly intimate footage of medical professionals working on patients with severe cases of COVID-19 provides heart-wrenching moments, such as when one patient wants to give up and speaks to the cameraman, claiming he will be dead in four days. The range of perspectives keeps you engaged while allowing audiences of all backgrounds to relate, as well as understand that the people of Wuhan have experienced exactly what the rest of the world has during this time.
Wuhan Wuhan ends with a beautiful climax that’s emotional, uplifting, and most of all, hopeful. Showing the culmination of a lot of the journeys, as we see life being born and surviving at the hospital, as well as the symbolic visual of life resurfacing on the streets of Wuhan, a visual we had not seen earlier in the film. Alongside the soothing score, the uplifting visuals and positive statistics of Wuhan’s journey out of lockdown, leave audiences around the world with a sense of belief and comfort, proving there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel the world has gone down.
Although the documentary is restricted in some ways, simply due to the COVID protocols that meant Chang could not be present during the filming process, it’s remarkable what they have managed to put together. The film successfully attaches a face (or faces) to Wuhan and hits home that this is more than just the city where COVID-19 started. It’s simply a part of the world that consists of people that have gone through the same struggles as we have. It’s powerful, surreal, and if there is one line that really connects this story to audiences around the world, it’s when a passenger tells Yin: “Ordinary people suffer the most in disasters like this.”
For details on Wuhan Wuhan screenings, head on over to the documentaries site.