Little Red Flowers
Director: Zhang Yuan (2006)
Because his parents are often away from home, four-year-old Fang Qiangqiang (Dong Bowen) is sent to live at a military boarding-kindergarten in 1960s Beijing.
On the surface, life at the kindergarten is rich and colorful, but Qiangqiang has trouble sticking to the school's strict regime. He yearns to be awarded a little red flower, the prize for correct behavior. But Qiangqiang can't dress himself in the morning, still wets his bed and can't quite get his bowels to move in front of other kids. But his inability to conform is peculiarly at odds with his charisma, which is particularly evident when he convinces his classmates that their overbearing teacher is a flesh-eating monster. After this episode, his alienation grows as his frustration breeds defiance.
Director Zhang Yuan strikes a contrast between the chatter and bustle of Qiangqiang's classmates and the little boy's quiet confusion, drawing strong performances from his young cast. Dong acts with his eyes, their teary gape conveying his hurt, bewilderment and mischief.
Qiangqiang is typical of Zhang's preferred characters: those marginalized by society or who are forced to hide their feelings. In previous films, his protagonists have been criminals, homosexuals and obsessive lovers. Children, with their confusion of moral and social codes, are obvious candidates for his subtle treatment, and unlike Zhang Yimou's chipper Not One Less, which is also about children (despite its distinct propagandist tang), this film offers an implicit critique of the societal norms.
The film is based on Wang Shuo's third novel of the same name, and marks the second time Zhang has adapted the famous writer's works (the first was 2003's Wo Ai Ni). Zhang once again gives life to the sense of estrangement in which Wang specializes.
(That's Beijing May 11, 2006)