Blue Kite, The (China, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

"I finished shooting The Blue Kite in 1992. But while I was involved in post-production, several official organizations involved with China's film industry screened the film. They decided that it had a problem concerning its political 'leanings,' and prevented its completion. The fact that it can appear today seems like a miracle... The stories in the film are real, and they are related with total sincerity. What worries me is that it is precisely a fear of reality and sincerity that has led to the ban on such stories being told."
- Tian Zhuangzhuang, director of The Blue Kite

The Blue Kite recounts how a child and his mother survive through the turbulence of China during the 1950s and 60s, when political beliefs that were proper one year might be deemed counterrevolutionary the next. It is a troubling climate, where nothing is certain, and the greatest difficulty of growing up lies in determining what is proper behavior and what is likely to get you taken away for "reform."

The narrator of The Blue Kite is Tietou (played by Yi Tian as an infant, Zhang Wenyao as a young boy, and Chen Xiaoman as an adolescent), whose 1953 birth occurs early in the film. His parents, librarian Shalong (Pu Quanxin) and teacher Shujuan (Lu Liping), are supporters of the Maoist revolution, but that doesn't prevent Shalong from being accused of counterrevolutionary activities and sent off a labor camp, where a tree falls on him and kills him. Shujuan and Tietou's struggles through this and subsequent trials form the background of Tian Zhuangzhuang's motion picture.

Tian's criticism of the Chinese revolution is effective because of its subtlety. As was true in Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, the characters' stories are used to represent the injustices of the system. If anything, the methods employed in this film are less direct than those in Concubine, but no less disturbing. Tietou's courage, Shujuan's spirit, and the love between mother and child are the immutable elements of The Blue Kite. No matter what year it is or how dire the characters' circumstances are, these three things are constant.

The acting by the principles, especially that of Chen Xiaoman and Lu Liping, is superb. Lu's unaffected presentation of the spectrum of human emotions creates a very real Shujuan.

Tian's method of storytelling, while reasonably straightforward, will be unfamiliar to many American movie-goers. Careful attention is demanded, especially for those who don't know the historical background. Because numerous scenes end abruptly and are often followed by sudden time changes, it's easy to lose track of what's going on in The Blue Kite.

Many of the movies coming from so-called "Fifth Generation" Chinese filmmakers (such as Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou) are either banned in their native country, or heavily censored. The government has shown an unwillingness to allow any criticism of their policies, either past or present. However, one proverbial "silver lining" in this cloud of controversy has been the greater worldwide recognition and distribution of productions such as The Blue Kite. We in the West should feel fortunate to be exposed to such well-crafted, provocative motion pictures.

Blue Kite, The (China, 1993)

Director: Tian Zhuangzhuang
Cast: Chen Xiaoman, Zhang Wenyao, Yi Tian, Lu Liping, Pu Quanxin, Li Xeujian, Guo Baochang
Screenplay: Xiao Mao
Cinematography: Hou Yong
Music: Yoshihide Otomo
U.S. Distributor: Kino International
Run Time: 2:18
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled Mandarin Chinese
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1