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In Beijing's Dry Well Lane in 1953, young school teacher Chen Shujuan (Liping Lu) and librarian Lin Shaolong (Cunxin Pu) marry. A year later their son, nicknamed Tietou 'Iron Head' (as infant: Tian Yi, as child: Wenyao Zhang, as teenager: Xiaoman Chen), is born. The Communist Party is everywhere: Mao's photograph, loud-speaker announcements, visits from the neighborhood committee. After being wrongly accused of rightist tendencies, Shaolong is banished to a reform camp, where he dies; a close family friend, who protects Shujuan and her son partly out of guilt for lying to authorities about Shaolong, succumbs to malnutrition; a confrontation with the Red Guard leads to injury, imprisonment and death. Shujuan's love for Tietou sustains her, and the fragile blue kite embodies faint hope, in the hands of the children.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Great Leap Forward, when a neighbour can unjustly accuse a librarian of 'rightist' tendencies and have him exiled to a 'reform' labour camp. The Great Leap Forward, when villagers can die of overwork and malnutrition in front of their families. The Great Leap Forward when young mothers are sent to work on a farm, leaving their toddler in the care of others. The Great Leap Forward, when to gain privileges you have to be a member of the Communist Party .... it goes on and on, until a couple of years later, the Leap morphs into the Cultural Revolution and the hysterical and hateful Red Guards.

Sadly, it's all too familiar, especially for those of us who have lived the glorious Communist experiment, the Animal Farm with humans very much the pigs. It's not just me: historian Frank Dikötter asserts that "coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the very foundation of the Great Leap Forward" and it "motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history."

Tian Zhuangzhuang's film was banned in China, even though it was made well after Mao's Great Leap Forward (1958 - 1961), no doubt stirring State guilt ... It is now making a welcome appearance on DVD here in Australia, a reminder of what a talented filmmaker Zhuanzhuang was - and is. Remember his wonderful Springtime in a Small Town (2002), for example. Blue Kite won several awards including at the Tokyo, Chicago and Hawaii film festivals.

Blue Kite begins in the early 50s, which is when he was himself born, and echoes with the melancholy authenticity of the era, with Stalin just dead but his legacy haunting the world like a grim reaper. But it's not a political document, rather a story of a family's journey through difficult times and the challenges faced.

The film boasts astonishing performances, not least from the young actors playing Tietou, who is as natural and rascally as they come as a kid, and as sullen and resentful as teenage angst and a depressed life can make him. The story is told through Tietou's eyes and he also provides occasional narration, but the film relies mostly on the language of cinema to reveal through the particular how the disease in general infected a vast nation.

Published May 2, 2013

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(China, 1993)

CAST: Tian Yi, Wenyao Zhang, Xiaoman Chen, Liping Lu, Cunxin Pu, Xuejian Li, Baochang Guo, Ping Zong, Quanzhong Chu, Bin Li

PRODUCER: Yongping Cheng, Guiping Luo

DIRECTOR: Tian Zhuangzhuang

SCRIPT: Mao Xiaou


EDITOR: Lengleng Qian

MUSIC: Yoshihide Otomo


RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: May 3, 2013

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