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The Blue Kite

The Blue Kite
Director: Tian Zhuangzhuang (1992)

"Living in the peaceful motherland, life gets better and better. Young people are nourishing long range ideals, the elderly live lives that seem younger than the young..."

While librarian Shao Long (Pu Cunxin) and teacher Shu Juan (Lu Liping) recited mottos of Mao on their wedding day, none of the guests noticed a wedding present brought by the couple's best friend, Lee - a small, inexplicably broken earthenware horse's head. 

Over time, the fortune of the new family begins to wane with the changing times. As The Blue Kite follows the fortunes of a Chinese family from the early 1950s through the days of the Cultural Revolution, movie watchers are given a glimpse of how political changes touched even the humblest of lives. 

"My parents told me that their wedding was delayed by ten days because of the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953," narrates the couple's son, Tie Tou (Iron Head). "That also delayed my birth by ten days." The day Tie Tou (played by Yi Tian as an infant, Zhang Wenyao as a young boy, and Chen Xiaoman as an adolescent) was actually born there was a rainstorm, and he was named Dayu (Heavy Rain); his grandmother however took to calling him Tie Tou, to help him grow up strong.

As the increasing turmoil of the Cultural Revolution took hold, the family is tossed around on its chaotic waves. Tragedy hits the family when first Shu Juan's elder brother is forced to leave the army due to problems with his eyes. His girlfriend, actress Zhu Ying, is then put in jail charged with counterrevolutionary activities when she refuses to become the wife of a senior official. At the same time, Shu Juan's little brother is exiled for re-education because of his radical words and deeds. Then Shao Long is sent to a labor camp, also accused of counterrevolutionary activities, until finally he is killed by a falling tree. 

After her first ill-starred marriage, Shu Juan remarries twice; both her second husband, Lee, and third husband, Luo, die untimely deaths. Through his innocent childhood, Tie Tou watches over painful separations and death, but is unable to understand what happens around him. In the final scene, he is knocked to the ground and beaten up. As he looks up to the sky, he sees a broken kite hanging from the branch of a tree, and sees that human life is as fragile as that kite in the wind.

The Blue Kite is usually discussed along side Zhang Yimou's film To Live. Both were not shown in China when they were first released, and both were directed by so-called Fifth Generation filmmakers. But there the similarities end: The Blue Kite is quieter, more impersonal, and more evocative in conveying a sense of the struggle and hardship people endured. Lv Liping's superb acting in the role of Shu Juan, and her unaffected presentation of the spectrum of human emotions, creates a believable heroine, and was well worthy of her prize for Best Actress in the 1993 Tokyo International Film Festival. Tian Zhuangzhuang won the grand prize at the same festival for his impressive rendering of an evocative film set in times of turmoil.

(cityweekend.com.cn February 19, 2004)


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