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BLUE KITE, THE (Lan feng zheng)(director: Tian Zhuangzhuang; screenwriter: Xiao Mao; cinematographer: Hou Yong; editor: Quian Lengleng; cast: Lu Liping (Chen Shujuan-mother), Pu Quanxin (Lin Shaolong-father), Zhang Wenyao (Tietou as a child),Li Xuejian (Li Guodong), Guo Donglin (Lin Yunwei), Li Bin (Grandmother), Chen Xiaoman (Tietou as a teenager), Lu Liping (Chen Shujuan), Xiaoying Song (Sis), Tian Yi (Tietou as an infant), Li Xuejian (Uncle Li), Guo Baochang (stepfather), Zhong Ping (Chen Shusheng); Runtime: 138; Kino International; 1993-China)
“It is surprising that this film got out of the repressive clutches of China. Lu Liping gave a tremendous portrayal of motherhood.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This film was made in mainland China and is one of the great and courageous films of the 1990s. It’s by Tian Zhuangzhuang (Horse Thief). It has been banned in China for its political content, and the director has not had another film of his released overseas since. It follows the story of a fictional family from their wedding in 1953, at the time Stalin died, to a year later at the birth of their child and all the way until the harsh consequences of their lives have finally become irreversible by 1968. It is narrated by their young boy Tietou who is now seen as an adult, with different actors portraying him as he grows up (Chen Xiaoman as a teenager was the most memorable of these performers). Tietou tries to make sense out of what happens to his ordinaryfamily, but he just can’t seem to fully comprehend why so much misfortune occurred. It is a tragic tale of a mother holding her family together, as they are caught up in the fervor of political zealots who need scapegoats to go after those who have different views and feelings about life.

“The Blue Kite” is the most acrimonious indictment in a film of Chairman Mao’s regime coming out of China that I can recall. It begins with the Rectification Movement and moves through the Great Leap Forward and the brutal extremes of the Cultural Revolution. The picture best demonstrates how the politics and history of the revolutionary times affect the lives of real people. How from year-to-year there is great changes in what beliefs are to be followed and the worst thing now is to be accused of being a Rightist, a counterrevolutionary. This provocative film is not a flattering look at the myopic political situation in modern China. It tells of simple truths, emphasizing family life, while it is brilliantly crafted in a most moving way.

The story mostly takes place in the crowded apartment complexes in Beijing, where Tietou lives with his father, Shaolong (Pu Quanxin), who is a librarian and his mother, Shujuan (Lu Liping), who is a teacher. The extended family consists of a sister and brothers and a grandma, all who live nearby. They also live in simply furnished apartments. Times are difficult because there is not enough food, but everyone seems happy and there is a sense of strong family ties and a strong comradeship among the neighbors. There is also an air of innocence and fun that seems to be contagious. It is a time for Tietou to fly his blue kite and for his kindly father to make another one if this one gets stuck in a tree.

The most critical development for the family, is when the library staff is called into a meeting. The staff is told by the party bureaucrats that it has not been self-critical of itself and has not been able to find any reactionaries among them. In the middle of the discussion, Shaolong goes to the bathroom. When Shaolong returns there is an eerie silence, with everyone looking at him. Unfortunately, it is he who has been deemed as the reactionary. Shaolong is thereby ordered to go away for reeducation to a collective labor farm. He will die there in an accident when a tree falls on him.

The mother’s life is a difficult one. Chen is trying to adjust to the changing political climate, as she tries to give her full love to Tietou who has difficulty understanding what has happened to the family. Chen will go through two more marriages — as she weds an army officer, an old friend of the family, and later she weds a prosperous party official, who is a quiet and erudite man. The party official makes the best of that marriage knowing that Tietou doesn’t like him. In each marriage, it is shown how the politics of the revolution alters the family’s togetherness in a deleterious way. The point of the story is that the bonds between mother and child remain strong, no matter what.

“The Blue Kite” explores in detail what happened in recent times when mob rule took over China and hooligans marched through the streets, denouncing fellow citizens for reactionary behavior, all in the patriotic name of a Cultural Revolution. This film accurately captured the mentality of those who go along with such acts. It is about those who are brainwashed into always thinking they are right and ignoring all the harm they do to the people they unfairly purge. It is surprising that this film got out of the repressive clutches of China. Lu Liping gave a tremendous portrayal of motherhood.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”