Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Blue Kite

"Hero" was one of the most beautiful films ever made but its politics are a little suspect. It treats the First Emperor, idol of Mao and most other Chinese tyrants, far too sympathetically. Its political content is a case for accepting the brutalities of your leaders in the name of unity and stability. Most Chinese films are not as obviously political and most have less sinister messages. Consider a couple of Zhang Yimou's other efforts: "House of Flying Daggers" is a story about a yearning to be free although it is never really drawn in political terms. "Not One Less" is a realist drama about the value of education. There is politics in these films if you wish to find it but they hardly constitute a defiance of the regime. Zhang Yimou's art is no challenge to the CCP.

Of course, his not challenging the regime is hardly a crime. Chinese people have been under the CCP's rule for some time and have to come to some kind of accomodation while direct pressure for change faces such poor odds. Resistance is a noble thing but not for everyone.

However, there is at least one really brave Chinese political film which provides a glimpse into the reality of China's troubled 20th century under Communism. "The Blue Kite", directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, was banned and got its director barred from film-making for six years. It is rather hard to get hold of, you can get a VHS copy of an ICA edition via Amazon but that's it. It is about the sufferings of a family during the Anti-Rightist campaigns, Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. The story revolves around a mother and child and how their family is torn apart by political currents beyond their control. The Blue Kite of the title is an allusion to this. Dragged hopelessly to its destruction on a tree. It is a similar story to Jung Chang's "Wild Swans".

The difference is that this story is told from the point of view of a child. This reduces the amount of historical detail which makes the film more manageable and heightens the emotional impact. There is a genuinely wrenching feel to the family's suffering and the betrayal of innocence involved. Accounts of the suffering of China in the twentieth century are, and might remain if the CCP remains in power beyond the death of most of those involved, very rare. This is a priceless insight into the emotional story of those times.

The acting is unpretentious and effective. Visually the film is largely realist but sometimes lets itself go and attains a real beauty. In particular, the iconic images of the blue kite itself or the children running with their toys. There is a beauty to this film which turns the emotional feel of the travails of the family from horror to real tragedy.

If you can find it do watch this film.

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