Progressive cinema: “Angel of Nanjing”

A newly released documentary has been winnings awards around the world. The very touching Angel of Nanjing follows a young man who is on a personal mission to save people attempting to commit suicide by jumping off the largest bridge in China.

Chen Si, without any psychology or medical training, takes on the human task of convincing people that life is valuable. On his motor scooter, wearing a jacket that states ‘Cherish Life Everyday” he patrols the largest bridge in China, which runs over the Yangtze River in Nanjing. It’s the most popular place in the world to commit suicide. China has almost 300,000 a year, nearly one-third of the world’s total.

The compelling film contains amazing video footage of thwarted suicide attempts. Talking people off the bridge, giving them food, companionship, finding jobs, all without the common religious solutions of seeking God’s help, but rather a commitment to society and the human being.

He credits his strong feelings for life to his grandmother, who is shown in her small village dealing with the pains of old age. Without professional training he feels he has acquired a lot of firsthand experience and has developed some theories about suicide. He groups them into five types:

–        Those caused by a sudden drastic change in life, loss of job or loved one. “These are easiest to save as long as I can get them out of immediate danger and give them time to heal.”

–        The second type are those suffering from psychological problems, which he attributes to the rising standard of living leaving many behind.

–        The third category are people at an advanced stage of terminal illness. “The success rate is very low because they cannot bear the pain of their disease.”

–        The fourth type is caused by domestic violence, usually women.

–        And the last group are those caused by emotional pain from personal relationship issues. 

Since he began his mission 11 years ago, he has saved over 300 lives, and at great personal sacrifice. Chen says, “As long as I can get within 50 feet I can determine if someone intends on suicide.” He uses personal funds to help pay for temporary shelter for those he’s saved from suicide. In addition, he has a yearly Christmas party bringing together many of those he’s saved over the years.

Despite all the lives he’s saved, Chen’s mission has taken an unexpected toll on him. He feels incredible guilt when he learns someone committed suicide while he wasn’t at the bridge, and even more when he is there and is still unable to save them. He’s become a heavy smoker and drinker, and often finds himself battling with depression. He is also under growing pressure from his family to quit, who cannot understand why he spends so much time and money helping others when he has his own family to worry about.

But the film focuses on the humanity of this average man, showing how love for life and people, outside of the traditional religious solutions, can drive a person in a country of over a billion people to exercise compassion for his fellow humans.

The award winning documentary is directed by Jordan Horowitz and Frank Ferendo, and produced by Balance Films and Blue Bus Productions. It debuts on VOD (iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play) February 16th.


Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer frequently writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and a current member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.