THE BLUE KITE, the eighth feature directed by acclaimed "Fifth Generation" filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang, is a worm's-eye-view of political events in Beijing in the 1950s and 60s. Banned in China due to its relative historical frankness, the film is an ambitious, complex portrayal of the
effects of the Cultural Revolution and subsequent upheavals on some of the country's more modest citizens.
Most of the action is viewed through the eyes of a young boy, Tietou (played by Yi Tian, Zhang Wenyao, and Chen Xiaoman, reflecting ages from infancy through adolescence), whose life, as he notes in a voice-over, was influenced by world events even before his birth: his parents were compelled to
delay their wedding, and Tietou's conception, because of Stalin's death. Tietou spends his childhood with loving parents, librarian Shaolong (Pu Quanxin) and schoolteacher Shujuan (Lu Liping), in the precincts of a communal courtyard ringed by modest dwellings. His extended family includes uncles
Shusheng (Zhong Ping) and Shuyan (Chu Quanzhong), as well as an aunt (Song Xiaoying), a committed Marxist known as "Sis." The close-knit community gradually unravels as its members fall victim to the forces of history. When, in a famous speech, Mao appears to invite criticism of the Party ("Let a
hundred flowers bloom"), a local schoolteacher takes him too literally and complains about practices at the school. He's sent to a labor camp, along with Tietou's father, who dies there. Zhu Ying (Zhang Hong), Shusheng's girlfriend, is imprisoned for "counter-revolutionary crimes"--a soldier in
the Peoples' Army, she refuses to dance with (and implicitly, grant sexual favors to) ranking officers.
Li Guodong (Li Xuejian), a family friend who failed to save Tietou's father from persecution, marries Shujuan out of guilt, but he dies soon after of a liver ailment exacerbated by malnutrition and overwork. Shujuan then marries Wu, an aging, kindly party official (Guo Baochang), who runs afoul
of the Red Guard after the Cultural Revolution prompts a purge of Communist old-timers. Fearing for his wife's safety, Wu directs her to divorce him; reluctantly, she returns home, where Shuyan is preparing to marry a peasant girl. A broken Zhu Ying returns from prison, but refuses to marry
Shusheng, who is now nearly blind as a result of an eye disease. After Sis is denounced by party zealots, Shujuan flees to Wu, who is about to be taken by Red Guards. She intervenes and is arrested, while Tietou is brutally beaten.
Despite its tragic narrative trajectory, THE BLUE KITE is not all death and despair. Most of the film's events unfold quietly around family meals, during evenings at home, and through the performance of humble domestic chores and other daily pursuits--moments of simple tranquility and occasional
joy that persist in the midst of political turmoil. Vivid glimpses into revolutionary Chinese life--the noisy, parading Neighborhood Committee intended to infuse residents with revolutionary spirit, or the people's sincere but misguided response to Mao's adjuration to "eliminate all pests" (they
kill all the neighborhood's sparrows)--convey aspects of an experience completely foreign to most Western viewers. Indeed, without the help of additional background information, Americans may well miss salient plot elements. However, even those viewers who are blissfully ignorant of China's grim
recent past should respond to director Tian's flair for symbolic imagery, a number of subtly drawn characterizations, and the luminous, richly detailed look supplied by cinematographer Hou Yong. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: THE BLUE KITE, the eighth feature directed by acclaimed "Fifth Generation" filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang, is a worm's-eye-view of political events in Beijing in the 1950s and 60s. Banned in China due to its relative historical frankness, the film is an ambit… (more)