(The Blue Kite)
Hong Kong-China, 1992
Director: Tian Zhuangzhuang
Production: Longwick Film Production, Beijing Film Studio; color; running time: 138 minutes.
Producers: Luo Guiping, Cheng Yongping; screenplay: Xiao Mao; photography: Hou Yong; editor: Qian Lengleng; assistant directors: He Jianjun, Zhang Weiyong; art director: Zhang Xiande; music: Yoshihide Otomo; costumes: Dong Juying.
Yi Tian (
); Zhang Wenyao (
); Chen Xioman (
); Lu Liping (
); Pu Quanzin (
); Li Xuejian (
); Guo Baochang (
); Zhong Ping (
Variety (New York), 14 June 1993.
Lapinski, Stan, "Woede en doortrapte mildheid," in Skrien (Amsterdam), no. 197, August-September, 1994.
Rayns, T., in Sight and Sound (London), February 1994.
Rayns, T., "Flying Colours," in Time Out (London), 2 February 1994.
Sklar, Robert, "People and Politics, Simple and Direct," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 20, no. 4, 1994.
* * *
Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Blue Kite is one of a number of contemporary films which charts the ever-changing face of life in post-revolutionary China. The film is most effective as an uncompromisingly humanistic examination of the impact of politics and blind revolution on the individual and family unit. In this regard, it is a sobering censure of the hypocrisy existing within China under the domain of Mao. What is the point of revolution, the film maker asks, if basic human needs (let alone common civility and compassion) end up taking a back seat to that revolution?
The Blue Kite chronicles the emotional fireworks occurring within one Chinese family during the tumultuous 1950s and 60s. The unfolding events are considered from the point of view of Tietou, a child who narrates the proceedings and is seen from infancy through adolescence. The scenario opens in 1953, upon the death of Josef Stalin. Chen Shujuan (Lu Liping), a teacher, and Lin Shaolong (Pu Quanxin), a librarian, are about to be married in Beijing, and Tietou will be their son. Not long after his birth, a movement towards nationalism begins in China and the long arm of Communist Party politics stretches into the commonplace lives of all citizens.
The point of the scenario is that all which befalls Tietou and his family does not emerge from the natural ebb and flow of life. They are not allowed to evolve with the same freedom a kite has as it sails through the sky, with only the wind determining its direction. Instead, their fates are affected by the constantly evolving political correctness. They become victims of their society, where a revolution has taken place which presumably will improve their plight. But instead, they are irrevocably thrust into chaos: during repercussions against a movement which had advocated uncensored criticism of the Party, Shaolong is thrown into a labor camp; he eventually dies, and Shujuan marries a friend who cared for her and Tietou in Shaolong's absence; after the demise of her second husband, Shujuan weds an elderly Party member. Meanwhile, Tietou (now played by Chen Xiaoman) grows into a disaffected teen. His life—and that of all others—will undergo further upheaval in 1967, at the advent of the Cultural Revolution.
The Blue Kite contrasts the rhetoric versus the reality of life in contemporary China. Under communism, all citizens are supposed to be equal, but a class system and a political hierarchy remains in place. There are haves and have-nots, Communist Party members and peasants. The sole difference from the pre-revolutionary days is the identity of those in power. Meanwhile, young people are taught that "revolution is good," and politics must come first in their lives. As a result, petty adherence to Party rules takes preference over logic and humanity.
Tian vividly depicts the manner in which those who are at the political vanguard one year may find themselves chastised, beaten and scarred the next. In Communist China, yesterday's "good politics" just may become today's "bad politics." Yesterday's comrade is today's counter-revolutionary.
Thematically speaking, The Blue Kite is the sister film of Chen Kaige's Farewell, My Concubine and Zhang Yimou's To Live . Farewell, My Concubine runs from the 1920s through the 1970s and tells the story of a trio of characters, while To Live follows the fortunes of one Chinese family from the 1940s on; both narratives examine the manner in which their protagonists become swept up in the events of Chinese history. Despite their larger-than-life natures, all three films are, at their core, simple, personal stories of love, devotion, loss and forgiveness. The characters are deeply human and individualistic, rather than political caricatures.
The filming of The Blue Kite was almost complete in 1991, when it was screened for Chinese officials. Its production was summarily halted, because of its "political leanings." Postproduction was completed in Japan, using Tian's notes. Earlier, the overseas marketing of a pair of the film maker's other works, On the Killing Ground and Horse Thief , was disrupted by Chinese authorities. Similarly, the country's censors initially banned Farewell, My Concubine and, over the years, the Western media has reported Zhang Yimou's endless conflicts with his government, and the censuring of his films.
If The Blue Kite , among these other films, has been unable to directly alter the social and political fabric of China, the fact that it was completed, and made available to audiences across the world, remains a triumph in itself.