REVIEW: ‘Wuhan Wuhan’ explores a new perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic

Stephen Lambros, Contributing Writer

Feature-length documentaries examining the COVID-19 pandemic are not hard to find, but one that places the cameras in the hospitals and health centers of Wuhan, China during the initial outbreak are a comparative rarity. “76 Days,” a notable release from last year, told the stories of frontline medical workers and patients, while “In the Same Breath,” an HBO documentary released in 2021, discusses the responses to COVID-19 by the Chinese and United States governments. “Wuhan Wuhan,” the first film of the Cucalorus Film Festival’s Thursday screenings, spotlights frontline workers and patients like “76 Days” did, but the former still manages to depart from similar documentaries by means of its heartfelt and optimistic approach to capturing the beginning of the pandemic.

“Wuhan Wuhan” is a film directed by Yung Chang; it follows multiple individuals in Wuhan, China as they react to the pandemic surrounding them. Yin is a volunteer medical driver, who shuttles workers between quarantine hotels and hospitals, and is expecting a newborn daughter. Meanwhile, Nurse Susu treats critically ill patients in the ICU including witty Grandpa Shen, and single mother Xiuli Liu must quarantine with her nine-year-old son inside a hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. For weeks, the documentary crew tracks the stories of these individuals as they navigate a world ravaged by the pandemic, hoping to help others and move forward in its wake.

One of the first things audiences notice is the style used by Chang and his team, which eschews interviews and voice-over narration in favor of presenting the stories of its subjects as they are. This creative decision aids the film, by allowing the audience to discover the film’s human subjects through their actions and reactions. Audiences will also notice the balanced use of its subjects as characters in the film’s narrative. With its choice of interview subjects, the film deftly maneuvers around its coverage of volunteers, medical workers, doctors, patients and individuals in quarantine, offering the audience a well-rounded experience of Wuhan as a setting.

The most notable aspect of “Wuhan Wuhan,” however, is the optimism of the film’s tone in comparison to similar documentaries. The film by no means makes light of the situation unfolding, but the two pervasive focuses on humans helping each other and on humanity’s ability to move ahead in spite of the pandemic, both instill attitudes of hope in the audience. The film ends with text declaring that 16,000 children were born during the lockdown in Wuhan, cementing the film’s optimistic intentions.

All in all, “Wuhan Wuhan” is a heartfelt and deeply human time capsule that deserves to be seen by many people. The film effectively shows that while the coronavirus affected people on a global scale, the human race is more than capable of overcoming it.