Finding Yingying Dec 31, 2020 11:53:17 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Dec 31, 2020 11:53:17 GMT -5
Finding Yingying (2020)
Directed by: Jiayan "Jenny" Shi
Directed by: Jiayan "Jenny" Shi
Yingying Zhang was only 26-years-old when she was kidnapped and murdered in Urbana, Illinois.
Living in Illinois, the disappearance of 26-year-old Yingying Zhang rocked many of us. For almost a year, you couldn't turn on a newscast without hearing some update or development in the case. It brought a copious amount of attention to the ordinarily homey community of Urbana-Champaign, largely populated by college kids. It went on to cost the University of Illinois a great deal of money. And still, while Yingying's captor and killer is behind bars for life, the family has no closure. Her body hasn't been recovered, and given the circumstances, probably never will.
Tip of the cap to documentarian Jiayan "Jenny" Shi, who was a friend/colleague of Yingying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and decided to make her disappearance the subject of her illuminating debut, Finding Yingying. Even if you're a fellow Illinoisan and feel you've been inundated with information about the story, I'd still opine you watch it. Thanks to the absolutely unbelievable depth of access by Shi, you see the very real and devastating human toll Yingying's murder takes on her closest kin.
Born in Nanping, China, Yingying was intent on spending one year at the University of Illinois to conduct research on photosynthesis and crop productivity. Things changed for many individuals on June 9, 2017. She had missed a bus she was set to take to sign a new lease. She was lured into a vehicle driven by Brendt Christensen with promises of a ride. Christensen took her back to his apartment, brutally beat, raped, and decapitated her, tossing her dismembered body-parts in garbage bags before disposing of them.
Shi's documentary covers Yingying's initial disappearance along with her father, brother, boyfriend, and eventually her mother's arrival from China to Illinois in search of their daughter. Try to imagine never being in a foreign country, and the first time you step foot on the soil is in lieu of your child's disappearance on her college campus — not her graduation. An unthinkable horror I wouldn't wish on my mortal enemies.
Shi's access to Yingying's family is as unfathomable as her brother and boyfriend's ability to galvanize the family and keep them level-headed and optimistic throughout the daunting search. When Christensen is finally apprehended and awaiting trial, Yingying's family becomes increasingly frustrated as they're not familiar with the American legal system. They want to see him get the death penalty, to which you can't blame. Illinois is indeed a state that carries the death penalty, but the jury vote must be unanimous. Christensen's wasn't, so his life was spared.
Some of the footage we see in Finding Yingying is uncomfortable and tear-jerking. There's a scene where Yingying's grandfather suggests they kill a couple American college students in China to see how the U.S. government responds. At one point, during a heated domestic argument, Yingying's mother begins breaking plates and glasses while yelling at her emotionally disconnected husband. It's harrowing to say the least. And saddening. One thing few of us consider when following missing persons stories is the emotional toll it takes on the family. The lack of closure is damaging in several respects.
Moreover, Yingying's parents can't rest easy unless they find her body and give her a proper burial. Due to the contents of the dumpster in which she was disposed having been compacted multiple times and scattered over a private landfill — let alone that taking place three years ago — a recovery is flat-out impossible. The pain remains and will remain everlasting, body or no body.
Sprinkled throughout the documentary is Shi narrating snippets of Yingying's journal, where she writes in amazement at Illinois' many cornfields, her own field-work, and her feelings of isolation and loneliness in a foreign country. You might wonder why and how Yingying's story had the power to captivate so many. Her boyfriend Xiaolin says it best: she was an ordinary girl with an ordinary background, looking to do extraordinary things. It's all very relatable; as was Yingying, an ambitious soul looking to forge her place in the world.
During one of the family's many commutes back and forth from Illinois to China, a sign can be seen at O'Hare Airport when the family is departing. "Anyone who asks if you need a ride shouldn't be giving you one." It's too little, too late information for Yingying at this juncture, but if the pithy quote saves another young person's life, that counts for something.
NOTE: Finding Yingying is currently available to stream for free via Pluto TV and is available on Paramount+ with a subscription.
Directed by: Jiayan "Jenny" Shi.