Distributor:  dGenerate Films
Length:  144 minutes
Date:  2013
Genre:  Expository
Language:  Mandarin / English subtitles
Grade level: 8-12, COLLEGE, ADULT
Color/BW:  Color
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When the Bough Breaks

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On the outskirts of Beijing, two teenage girls struggle to pay for their brother's schooling.

When the Bough Breaks

On the outskirts of Beijing, two teenage girls from a migrant family struggle to earn the money to pay for their brother's schooling with little help from their troubled and eccentric parents.

Growing up in a rickety hut on a garbage-filled lot, Xia, Ling, and Gang recognize that a good education is their only possible ticket to a better life. Their older sister, who left school to begin working, has disappeared, likely kidnapped and sold into prostitution.

As migrants, they are prevented by China's hukou (residence permit) system from attending a free public school, and when the school that had provided them with scholarships closes, they are forced to look for new options. With very little money to their name, they place all their hopes in Gang, the older brother.

Their complicated home life doesn't make things any easier. Their alcoholic father and their mother are frequently at one another's throats, and do not seem to understand the gravity of their children's situation.

Director Ji Dan, one of China's preeminent female filmmakers, first met Xia, Ling, and Gang in 2004, while making a film about education in China, This intimate, patient portrait grew out of their close relationship over many years.

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS at once explores the particular dynamics of one family and exposes the widespread difficulties faced by migrants living at the margins of Chinese society.

'Ji Dan's film features some of the most engrossing storytelling in movies this year, and...some of the richest 'characters' in recent memory.' -Mubi Notebook

'Ji Dan's camera traces the tribulations of the family with an intensity that is unnerving...a shattering viewing experience.' -Dan Edwards, Screening China

'The film captures their arguments with such intimacy that you wonder if director Ji Dan had worn an invisible cloak while filming.' -Kevin B. Lee, RogerEbert.com


** Objectif d'or (Grand Prize), Millenium International Documentary Film Festival
** 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam
** 2012 MoMA Documentary Fortnight
** 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival
** 2012 Yunan Multi Culture Visual Festival
** 2012 Goteborg International Film Festival
** 2012 San Diego Asian Film Festival


Main credits

Ji, Dan (film director)
Ji, Dan (cinematographer)

Other credits

Cinematography, Ji Dan; editing, Sha Qing, Ji Dan.

Distributor credits

A film by JI Dan

Docuseek2 subjects

Youth Issues
East Asia
Family Issues
Asian Studies

Distributor subjects

East Asia
Family Relations
dGenerate Films Collection - Documentaries


China; Beijing; migrants; children; school; education; hukou; Ji Dan; independent documentary; dGenerate films; public education; "When the Bough Breaks"; Icarus Films

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