Last Train Home documents the journey of an estimated 130 million Chinese migrant factory workers who make an annual trip to visit their families during the Chinese New Year's holiday. Logistically speaking, the sheer volume of people alone is a civil engineer's worst nightmare. The holiday falls in the dead of winter, so the transporting problem is then compounded by the electric trains' vulnerability to the elements. At one point, the power grid is knocked out by a snowstorm, resulting in weeklong delays and hysteria among the weary travelers, who are hungry and tired but determined to get home.

The documentary focuses on a married couple, Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin, who, like millions of other migrant workers, have left their children in the care of a grandmother while they earn a living in one of the innumerable urban factories. What's most striking about watching the couple work is just how rudimentary the labor is—textiles are sewn monotonously for hours, large boxes are carried on shoulders one by one, floors are diligently scrubbed on hands and knees. The work is hard, the hours are long, and the pay is dismal.

As the New Year approaches, the couple manages to secure transportation back to their provincial home. Upon arrival, they spend some time reacquainting themselves with their two children, 17-year-old Qin and her younger brother, Yang. After the initial exchange of niceties, the parents waste little time in reaffirming to their progeny the familiar axioms that all parents bestow on their children—do well in school, go to university, become successful, and so on. The parents' aspirations become derailed, however, when Qin decides to drop out of school to work in a factory. A rebellious act for this teenager is following in her parents' sad footsteps.

Director Lixin Fan has already shown with his previous work (associate producer to 2007's Up the Yangtze) that he has a rooted interest in promoting the voice of the peasant and working families caught in the middle of China's rapid industrialization. But is this film a spark plug for sweeping social reform? Will it do more than provide a Western audience with an awareness of the human anguish doled out for a cheap pair of jeans? Decidedly not—the Chinese economy continues to expand with little to no regard for the toll on its workforce. recommended