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To the Light: The Dark Days of China's Coal Miners

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To the Light: The Dark Days of China's Coal Miners

Shelly W. Chan reviews To the Light: The Dark Days of China's Coal Miners, directed by Yuanchen Liu (2012, 69 minutes)

“There are four levels of existence: The best is a life completely satisfied; below that is a life not fully satisfied; third is death; and the worst, is a life of endless suffering.” With this quote from “Quality of Life” in Lüshi chunqiu, a Chinese classic, the documentary opens with a black and white silent scene: several miners are moving a certain object from a cart and placing it onto the ground. This scene, reoccurring later in the documentary and the second time being in color with sound, sets a somber tone for the film. The audience discovers that it is actually a death scene from a coal mine in Sichuan province, China. The object being placed onto the ground is the body of one of the two miners who were killed in a mine accident on May 26th, 2010.

The documentary focuses on three families to illustrate the lives of Chinese coal miners. The audience sees all levels of existence in the above quote except level one, an unreachable level for people like miners in China. While the two repeating scenes represent level three, death, the most striking is what is said to be worse than death: endless suffering. In the meantime, the viewers also see how some miners’ families are struggling with and trying to improve their unsatisfied lives.

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