Director Jiu-liang Wang captures the striking, melancholic beauty of a vast and lifeless artificial landscape—a Chinese countryside covered almost entirely in imported plastic. Men and women build lives upon this waste, and children learn about the outside world through tattered western advertisements and tabloid images. Yet even within such a profoundly isolating and toxic atmosphere, hope and humanity find their way into the defiantly optimistic 11-year-old Yi-Jie.
When she’s not building forts beneath massive plastic mounds, or constructing fake computers from magazine cutouts, Yi-Jie dreams of eating real fruits and raising healthy animals, as well as attending school and befriending kids her own age. Her father, an alcoholic, can’t afford to pay for her education. But she finds a kindred spirit in the young and optimistic Kun, the local recycling facility owner, who dreams, like she does, of one day escaping the plastic countryside and finding a better life. Whether they can break free or must simply make due with their harsh manufactured environment becomes the central tension within Wang’s poignant, exquisitely realized film.