As the title suggests, Matthiew Klinck’s documentary My Brother Lives in China, Part 1: Canton Sunday is all about the life of Matthiew’s brother David. David and his girlfriend Carey live in Guangzhou (otherwise known as Canton), China, with Carey’s mother, where they run a school teaching English. Every weekend, David gets together with a small group of locals and other expatriates to perform and record music as Canton Sunday. At first just an activity for fun, the band finds itself in ever-increasingly complicated waters as they get an investor to cover their first recording.
At first, you might wonder what it is that Klinck is going for with this documentary, as no obvious narrative asserts itself early on, when we’re meeting David and friends. Sure, David is entertaining and the glimpse of life in Canton inviting, but what exactly are we doing here? Is this a documentary, or a glorified home video?
While your mind spins on that one, the narrative concerning Canton Sunday evolves. Life for David is financially challenging, and his business is long hours with not always high reward. Everyday stresses mount, but he’s still seldom seen without a smile on his face, or a song coming from his mouth (or guitar). There’s joy to be found in the music, and the music-making, and the documentary becomes as much about the day-to-day life of David as it does about the creative and artistic process behind making and recording music.
Mixed through and around it all is the ever-smoggy environment of Canton itself. A city of constant change, roads are removed and rebuilt overnight, the air is dirty and the streets are full of people. Artistic creation is as much an escape as it is a reaction to a world that is seemingly always in flux.
So, yes, this is a documentary about David’s life. It’s also a documentary about Canton. And music. And small businesses. And evolution. The title could’ve said all of that too, but it’s long enough as it is, right? Regardless of how, or even whether, you appreciate the film, it is at least entertaining throughout. The music of Canton Sunday is quality itself, and the soundtrack is full of it. Overall, it’s a film that winds up being many things, even as it is also exactly what it says it is.
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