The Blue Kite (Lan feng zheng) Reviews
Karl Marx viewed communism as the final stage in humanity; society without class, state, or oppression.
Ironically, communist nations have historically been authoritarian states that view even suggestion as a form of subversion.
In "The Blue Kite" Chairman Mao Zedong's communist utopia is measured against one nuclear family in Beijing, opening in 1953, whose youngest male member narrates the film -- from beyond? -- his adolescence marked by three distinct periods in Red China's formative years (Anti-Rightist Movement, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution).
These three periods are split into three chapters, which coincide with the three men who are married to the boy's mother beginning with his biological father.
By the end of "The Blue Kite" all three men will die from direct or indirect effects of Mao's aggressive, paranoid brand of Agrarian Socialism.
"The Blue Kite" is a paragon of a slow burn. Fifth Generation filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang takes his time establishing the atmosphere of early '50s Beijing and the characters who live in and around it that are happy for the things they have in life: food, clothing, shelter, and one another. Suffice to say, slowly, but surely, as government policies become greyer the hope once shared by the family gradually dims.
"The Blue Kite," to no surprise, was censored by the Chinese government upon completion in 1993 and Tian banned from filmmaking for nearly a decade. Audiences in need of a faster, more melodramatic telling of the same ground covered in "The Blue Kite" should consult "To Live" (released the following year to the same domestic consequence) by Tian's Fifth Generation peer Zhang Yimou. Both films have since gone on to wide international acclaim.
Tietou's parents are married about a week and a half after the death of Stalin. His father is sent away and dies. His mother remarries again, marrying a local party leader who dies of "liver malfunction," probably brought on by the problems caused by killing the sparrows. Then, his mother marries a higher party official, one who lives in a big city. Tietou tries to stay in touch with his mother's family, but China is not safe for families. Anyone can be sent away for essentially any reason. This is, after all, the era of the Cultural Revolution by the end. Intellectuals were feared and distrusted; anything Western was destroyed, as were many priceless artifacts of Chinese imperial history. Tietou finds no safety anywhere.
Through it all, there are blue kites. Tietou's father makes him one; throughout the film, other people make them as well, culminating in Tietou making one for his young step-nephew. These kites, I think, are intended to be symbols of hope, but they inevitably get stuck in trees. Not even the kites can find safety; the kites cannot seek the haven of the blue sky. (Though at least one is merely blown away, which is nice to think about for the kite but not so happy for the boy on the ground.) Tietou is trapped. His mother, who twice seems to marry in the hope of improving life for her son (though I think she really loves her second husband), suffers even more, as she uses herself to shield her son.
This is not a fun movie. This ends badly, and Tietou's own ultimate fate is uncertain but troubling nonetheless. It is, however, a fascinating movie, one created at great personal danger to the filmmakers. Anything veering away from the official 1981 statement on the subject by the Chinese Communist Party (the "Chief responsibility for the grave 'Left' error of the 'Cultural Revolution,' an error comprehensive in magnitude and protracted in duration, does indeed lie with Comrade Mao Zedong" and that the Cultural Revolution was carried out "under the mistaken leadership of Mao Zedong, which was manipulated by the counterrevolutionary group of Lin Biao and Jiang Qing and brought serious disaster and turmoil to the Party and the Chinese people," per Wikipedia) is highly censored, and the portayal of the suffering of these individuals is highly problematic.
But it is a beautiful film, a significant film, a moving film. It's a Great Movie, for the curious, and one we should see before we die. The three Tietous blend into one another well enough that I'm literally not sure when we switch between the last two. The horrors of the time, the fears of the time, are captured in a way that I think even ignorant Westerners will understand, though I imagine it takes knowing what the Cultural Revolution was in the first place.
I am at a loss as to why this particular film is touted as being banned in China - probably just media hype. It doesn't portray any more realism/horror of the conditions in this era than other films - it is not overly sensationalist.