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  Publicity Stills of "Little Red Flowers"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival 2006
Official Selection at the Berlin International Film Festival 2006

In Mandarin with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Zhang Yuan
Starring: Ning Yuanyuan, Zhao Rui, Li Xiaofeng
RunTime: -
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 5 October 2006 (The Picturehouse)


Qiang is a four-year-old little rebel, possessed of a pair of luminous eyes and a precociously indomitable will. His father deposits him at a well-appointed residential kindergarten in post-1949 Beijing, since his parents are often away. Life at the kindergarten appears rich and colourful, made up of a variety of cheerfully sunny rituals and games meant to train these children to be good members of society. But it's not so easy for Qiang to adapt to this kind of carefully organized, minutely scrutinized collective life. A fierce individualist in miniature, he tries but fails to conform to the model his teachers enforce. Yet he still craves the reward that the other students win: the little red flowers awarded each day as tokens for good behaviour.

Movie Review:

Hands up all those who can still remember the intricate details of their life during the kindergarten years. For me, I only vaguely recall the alphabet song singing, some mandarin lessons, simple math, and a friend or two, with the help of photographs of course. The games were pretty fun, and as a kid I remember spending much time running from place to place, rather than walking.

Based upon a book by Wang Shuo, Little Red Flowers tells the story of a young boy, Fang Qiangqiang (Dong Bowen), whose parents decide to put him in a boarding school because they aren't always around to look after him. Talk about having it easy in parenting, but I suspect it's because they have a handful looking after this precocious tot, and they might have contemplated
and decided that some discipline in his life during the early years would do him good.

From the dressing, it's probably easy to guess that it's set in the 50s China, and at first glance, the kindergarten's something you would already expect, with lessons and teachings, game playing in the school's courtyard, song singing sessions, and since it's a boarding school, the communal meals and bunks which accommodate them all, including the teachers,
under one roof.

Despite it being a movie with kids about kids, when you're watching this movie through adult eyes, you can't help but to see parallels in the complicated world we live in. How we demonize people we dislike, how we gang up with our cliques and bully those in weaker positions, how we seek to be different and to exert our individuality in conforming environments. We see all this through Qiang's struggles to find his own space within a world full of constricting rules, which
might be for the better, for the greater good amongst the masses, perhaps for the purpose of control?

However, while we yearn for our own space, we are still attracted to the goodies that are handed out by those in power. Like how Qiang finds the little red flowers, given out by his teachers for good behaviour, very appealing, and laments that because of his lack of conformity and his challenge of authority, he has none. And on the flip side, with a reward system, we're silently afraid of severe punishment should we tread on the wrong foot. There's an interesting scene
about the sucking up to power which I found quite subtle in wagging the finger on something which is quite common in any society.

The story unfolds and manages to keep you engaged as you unwittingly start to draw from past experiences, and there are plenty of peculiar scenes too that I can't really quite fathom with the kids running around half naked from the waist down. But what would probably draw bewilderment, will be the abrupt open ended finale. Definitely not the icing on the cake.

Movie Rating:

(An engaging story of a cunning little rascal's kindergarten life, drawing parallels to the adult world we live in.)

Review by Stefan Shih


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