This captivating and sobering documentary explores China's austere model of urbanization through the human drama of its most vulnerable citizens. With a nuanced sensibility, it follows the archetypical plight of a migrant peddler, struggling to maintain a livelihood against an evolving backdrop of harsh bureaucracy and discrimination.
Next to the mammoth construction site that is 24th Street in Hangzhou, street peddler Su and his girlfriend Qin open up a ramshackle restaurant. But without the necessary permits, the authorities send them and the other illegal dwellers away. So they find another location for their restaurant, only to be shut down again. Unable to relocate anywhere in the city, Su decides to return to his hometown, where he left his wife and four children 30 years ago. In his unremarkable return home, Su finds himself hardly welcomed by his family and well-rooted locals, and his prospects begin to seem just as dire.
24th Street maintains a stark, observational tone when following Su and Qin on their itinerant routes, yet is able to extract an emotional reality that cannot be ignored. With its colorful, at times unscrupulous protagonist, the film offers an essential chapter to the story of China's modernization, and suggests that "attention must be paid" to those on the fringe who can’t keep up.