A box office record-breaker in China, RED CHERRY is a fractured war parable purportedly based on actual events. The film's truly affecting sequences and intriguing metaphorical scenarios are undermined by persistent transitions between two episodic stories.
1940. To escape the turmoil in China, Luo Xiaoman (Xu Xiaoli) and Chuchu (Guo Ke-Yu) are sent to the Ivanov International School in Russia. There they make friends and engage in pranks before Chuchu leaves for summer camp while Luo stays at the school. Immediately the Germans invade, with Chuchu
and her classmates captured; Luo, too young to enlist as a soldier, lives hand-to-mouth in the streets.
Ultimately Luo is given a job delivering notices to families that a relative has been killed. He adopts a young orphan girl and begins replacing the notices with phony letters from the dead. Later he practices shooting German prisoners-of-war with his slingshot and eventually leads them into a
deathtrap, committing fiery suicide.
Meanwhile Chuchu has become maid to a Nazi general, Dr. Von Dietricht (Vladimir Nizmiroff). Against her will, he tattoos an elaborate swastika motif across her back, finishing just as the war ends. Killing himself, he sets her free, and a shamed Chuchu unsuccessfully tries to burn the tattoo off,
later undergoing extensive skin-grafting. She is later hailed as a heroine.
Shot entirely in Russia, RED CHERRY won multiple awards at home, including best actress at the Shanghai International Film Festival. Guo Ke-Yu underplays nicely, beginning as a shy peasant forced by her teacher to reveal an anguished past to the class, including seeing her father literally sawn in
half by the Kuomintang. The camera holds on Guo's stoically tearful face as she relives the moment, succinctly defining her character. For the bulk of the film she quietly perseveres through increasing hardships, until finally she cracks and shrieks in terror at Von Dittricht's handiwork. Upon her
rescue, she fights frantically to keep away from the showers but is stripped by well-meaning social workers; it's a chilling moment when they freeze in shock and she scurries across the room to cower and beg for her clothes back.
Unfortunately the children's stories tend to interrupt rather than complement one another. Luo's sequences are intriguing but disjunctive, culminating in an unconvincing end sequence which shows him building a symbolic slingshot out of a rifle and playing a deadly Pied Piper. The last third of the
script is particularly rife with powerful ideas and allegory, some obvious, some oblique: the Nazi, a crippled doctor, is entranced by Chuchu's smooth Chinese skin and uses it as a canvas for his cruel work of art, so that she will "carry his soul." The title, said to be from a Chinese expression
for youth and innocence, is reflected when Chuchu, wearing the initial marks of her shame, begs to be killed and has her face mashed in a plate of cherries. Bright red streaming down her cheeks, she is forced to watch as her fellow students are shot, until she submits to her tormenter and agrees
to bear the Nazi banner. Later, as the Third Reich goes kaput, she is led narcoleptically past bloody bodies in the snow while wearing a thin white nightgown--a layered allusion, with white representative of death in Chinese lore. (Graphic violence, extensive nudity, adult situations,profanity.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: A box office record-breaker in China, RED CHERRY is a fractured war parable purportedly based on actual events. The film's truly affecting sequences and intriguing metaphorical scenarios are undermined by persistent transitions between two episodic stories… (more)