The Blue Kite (1994)
Director: Zhuangzhuang Tian
Starring: Tian Yi (Tietou as an infant), Wenyao Zhang (Tietou as a child), Xiaoman Chen (Tietou as a teenager), Liping Lu (Chen Shujuan), Quanxin Pu (Lin Shaolong), Xuejian Li (Li Guodong, Uncle Li), Baochang Guo (3rd husband), Ping Zhong (Chen Shusheng), Quanzhong Chu (Chen Shuyan), Xiaoying Song (Sis), Hong Zhang (Zhu Ying), Yanjin Liu (Shujuan's mother), Bin Li (Granny), Zhang Lu (Mrs. Lan), Donglin Guo (Lin Yunwei), Shumin Wu (Street Committee Officer), Fengyi Zhang, Min Xu , Ju Zhang, Jiali Ding, Gengchen Jiang, Jong Chen.
horrible effects of the Cultural Revolution
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
In the movie, the blue kite symbolizes hope.
Dry Well Lane. 1953. The Russian communist dictator Stalin dies on March 5, 1953. Librarian Lin Shaolong and school teacher Chen Shujuan have to delay their wedding ten days because of his death. In the wedding ceremony the bride and groom first have to bow to pay respect to Chairman Mao. The couple have a child that they nickname Tietou (Iron Head).
Shujuan's brother, Chen Shusheng, pays a visit to the couple along with his girlfriend Zhu Ying. They are both in the army. Zhu Ying is an army dancer. Tietou plays outside. Another boy, Weijun is upset because his kite is caught up in a tree. Shaolong tells him to come down and he will make another kite for him.
The landlady complains that the government is going to change her class status from entrepreneur to worker and there is nothing she can do about it. April 27, 1957. A directive comes down concerning the rectification movement and a meeting about the new directive is held in the neighborhood. The Party asks for criticisms and suggestions to make China better. Lin Yunwei, a colleague of Shalong, tells Shalong and another library colleague that he has put in a suggestion for all three. Shalong and the other fellow are a bit upset about this because they wonder if this will hurt them in their jobs. At the library the party secretary speaks with Shalong about Lin Yunwei. He says that Yunwei has been inciting them to attack the Party. Shalong tries the best he can to deflect the criticism.
Zhu Ying speaks to her superior officer. She does not like dancing for the army. She wants a chance to study. A group criticize three students for their suggestions. It is said that the students deserve merciless criticism and attack. Shaolong's name appears on posters around the area and he becomes very depressed. In the army, Shusheng is in a staff meeting when a number of men are named to be rectified in the army. One of the named kills himself with a pistol shot to the head. In the library, Lin Yunwei is designated a rightest and will be sent to a reform camp for rectification. The library chief says there must be others. (It is obvious that they have to pick some other workers to name.) At the meeting, Shaolong takes a bathroom break and when he returns he finds that he has been named for rectification. Shaolong has to say good-bye to his family as he gets on the train to go to a reform camp.
Shusheng meets with Zhu Ying. She has been transferred and she did not even mention it to him. He has not seen her for awhile. Zhu Ying says that they should not see each other. (Because of her work difficulties, she is afraid that she will hurt his future if she is named.) Shujuan gets a letter from her husband saying that he will be coming home soon. Zhu Ying leaves the army altogether. She visits Shujuan who asks her if she has seen her brother Shusheng lately. No, she hasn't. She says she does not want to get her brother in trouble. Zhu Ying is scared. Her once superior officer wants her back in the army. Later, she is denounced for counter-revolutionary crimes and is arrested.
Shujuan receives a letter saying that her husband has died. The letter says he was cutting down a tree and it fell on him. Shujuan has to leave her family to go labor in the countryside for three months and Tietou has to live with his grandmother.
This is the time of the Great Leap Forward. The neighbors eat in communal kitchens. Even students are smelting steel.
Shujuan returns from the countryside. It has been three years since her husband's death. Li Guodong, a.k.a. Uncle Li, one of Shaolong's library colleagues, has been helping Shujuan. One day he confesses to Shujuan that it is he who wrote the report that got her husband in trouble. He has been filled with guilt ever since and he has been trying to make amends by helping Shujuan and her child. He learns that Shujuan already knows about it. Her husband told her and added that she should not blame Guodong because he had no choice but to write the report.
The landlady is denounced by the neighborhood leader for being able to prepare so many dumplings. She is accused of getting the extra flour in the black market. The landlady is very upset and explains that she saved up and bought the flour honestly. (After everyone leaves, the neighborhood leader tells her not to worry. The whole affair was meant only to show the others not to get involved with the black market.)
Shusheng has left the army because his eye sight has deteriorated quite a bit. He is going to visit Zhu Ying in prison in a few days. When he visits, he finds a very depressed Zhu Ying.
Guodong tearfully confesses to Shujuan that he feels he owes her and her son so much. He is wracked with guilt. Shujuan is hurt by this because she really likes Guodong and now she hears that the relationship was based on his guilt. She tells him to go and don't come back. She says that she is not a charity case, but also adds that she is terribly confused.
Guodong and Shujuan marry. But soon after the ceremony he drops dead of malnutrition and overwork. (He had been praised as a "model worker" at his job.) Shujuan and her son have to move in with grandmother. Shujuan gets married for a third time. Now she lives in considerable luxury with a really nice house and a car. It would be great, but her son does not like his stepfather and she is not that happy either.
Tietou meets his step-cousin. She asks him if he will take her kite-flying. The next thing we know she comes to Tietou to say that her kite is stuck in a tree. Tietou consoles her by telling her: "I can make a kite for you."
Zhu Ying is released from prison. The world she now enters is getting out-of-control. It is the period of the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards are out bullying people. Even the primary students denounce their principal. They pull her up on on a stage and cut her braids off. In addition, they burn their texts and break the windows of their school with thrown rocks.
Shusheng marries the recently released Zhu Ying. Tietou asks her why she was named and she tells him that she is not sure why she was arrested. Shujuan's husband has a meeting with her and Tietou. He thinks that he has been named and that soon he will be arrested. He suggests they divorce, so that Shujuan won't get in trouble because of him. Shujuan says she has to think about it. But the Red Guard is soon at the home arresting her husband. She tries to help him by shouting to the Red Guard that her husband has a bad heart: "Please let him go! You'll kill him!" So the Red Guard arrests her too. As they take her husband away she insults the Red Guard by calling them animals and beasts.
November 7, 1968. Stepfather dies of a heart attack.
Shujuan has been sent to a labor reform camp.
Very good movie. It was banned and forbidden in China. It was voted one of the ten best films of 1994. The movie really humanizes the suffering imposed on the Chinese people by the excesses of their communist government. In the Great Leap Forward they did crazy things like make students and teacher smelt steel, disrupting people's lives. Workers could be denounced at any time as not having the right spirit and be sent to prison or a reform camp. And then in the Cultural Revolution the government went mad with a McCarthyism times ten. Anarchy was becoming a threat to the nation because they encouraged so many people to denounce others.
The movie makes you really like the Chen-Lin family and suffer with them as they get abused by the government's horrible excesses.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Last Emperor (Bertolucci) (1987)
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