The movie begins with a long dolly shot in a factory. The factory, World Factory is divided int number of bays clustered around slow moving conveyor belts with 50 or 250 working at each. The dolly shot looks down each of bays, then another one, then another one, then another one, then another one, then another one, then another one. Every bay has production and manufacture going on quietly anbd steadily. But not alot of mechanization or automation. The value added and productivity is low per worker with the cheapness of life of labor/life making up the difference. Later as we watch an iron on the assembly line we watch another iron being sorted out of a scrap metal pile by hand. Piles of scrap metal, toys, plastic, and electronic components being carefully sifted by hand.
There is some ambuguity of these images. There can be read both as evidence of the criminal abuse of our planet's delicate ecology. That other way is to view as the socialist realism (or capitalist realism, advertising) paegns to the productivity and growth and economy and other great things. I am sure that in order shoot in China they didn't emphasis the negative. In fact there is a discussion/agruement in the film between Burtynsky, the film crew and Chinese authorities over shooting pictures at a coal shipping depot. The agruement is only captured with stills and recordings, the main cameras turned off maybe. The images even of this stygian locale show both destruction and production, hope and despair.