Making a film with one child actor can be challenging. Now imagine making a film set in a boarding kindergarten in Beijing in the 1970s with a cast of 4 and 5 year olds. That's the task director Zhang Yuan took on in Little Red Flowers, which opened in Shenzhen on Tuesday.
Little Red Flowers is about a young boy in a boarding kindergarten who refuses to let his spirit be bent by the school's rules, which are designed to make students conform to the model of an "ideal student."
It's a parable about the nature and complexities of being compelled to fit in to a regimented society. The movie is based on a novel by Wang Shuo, one of China's leading novelists.
Zhang said he was interested in the loneliness of children because he believes even small children have souls like adults. Their loneliness deserves representation on the screen.
"The world of children is a reflection of the adult world, which is the same everywhere. I deliberately left the time and space of the film vague to make the story more universal."
Zhang said this film is the most challenging film he has made so far as the children are so young and there were so many of them.
"But luckily, the young boy, Dong Bowen, who plays Fang Qiangqiang, is a very intuitive kid. So what you see on the screen is a mixture of acting and genuine response to the situations he was in."
In the movie, the 4-year-old Fang has difficulty acclimating to the school's regimen of how and when to eat, dress, wash his hands, and use the bathroom. He can't even dress himself and still wets his bed.
The boy's frustration and defiance soon put him at odds with the head teacher.
The film has funny moments, but also heartbreaking ones as Fang struggles to fit in and earn the coveted flowers, a reward to good students.
The little boy is a nonconformist in a world where conformity is highly prized, and the militaristic oppression of the kindergarten seems to crush his tiny soul.
When Fang tries to express his personality, he is called a freak by the other children, most of them refuse to even play with him.
Based on a series of incidents and vignettes, mostly funny, occasionally shocking or surprising, the movie questions the group mentality, the need to conform, and whether individuality is a quality to be prized and nurtured or beaten into submission with the time-honored techniques of peer pressure, humiliation and isolation.
(Shenzhen Daily March 23, 2006)