Worthy but flawed
Jia doing Jia. There isn't much here that sets it apart from his other films. The slight crime influences are quite recent, but apart from that it's just another film on rural China turning urban. America's cultural influences, horrid fashion and the contrast between old and new. I have to say it's all getting more than a little stale.
Jia pumps out another documentary. He's quite skilled at it too, but Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue was a pretty big misfire for me. Unless you're really interested in the topic (a local literary festival in Shanxi) or you really (really) love to hear people talk, there's not that much here.
Jia seeks out a varied roster of writers and interviews them about their life, though most of them end up talking about their younger years. These are rather lengthy interviews with a strong human interest character, not really the type of documentary I prefer. It's no surprise then that I felt the second hour really started to drag.
The intermezzos of the city (Shanxi) are by far the most interesting. They show that Jia has a knack for documentaries, as long as he doesn't focus too much on people and their (benign) stories. But I'm sure there's an audience for this, so if you want to hear Chinese writers reminisce, this documentary should be well worth your time.