“11 Flowers” take place in rural China during the end of the Cultural Revolution, when artists and intellectuals are forced to move away to work in factories, as a way to promote socialism and eliminate capitalism and cultural traditions. Families are struggling financially, and while parents work in the factories, their children with their youthful ignorance go off to school.
Wang Han (Liu Wenqing) is an 11-year-old who’s promoted to gym leader by his teacher, who also suggests he buy a new shirt to indicate his new position. Wang Han doesn’t realize the financial hardship of obtaining even a small piece of meat for dinner, so he begs his mother for a new shirt, which would cost the family an entire year’s worth of clothing rations. She initially refuses, but after seeing how badly he wants it, she agrees to make him a shirt. Wang Han wears it proudly until the shirt is stolen by a fugitive (Wang Ziyi), who’s wanted for murder. It’s then up to Wang Han and his three friends — Mouse, Louse and Weijun — to keep the killer’s location a secret while their town frantically tries to make sense of the murder and the attempted arson of their factory.
The film possesses a little bit of a Chinese “Stand By Me” vibe, telling a coming-of-age tale of four close boyhood friends with a secret. Yet the material is much heavier and politically charged due to its setting. The Cultural Revolution was a very troubled time of repression in China, and director Wang Xiaoshuai attempts to portray the struggles of the working class through the eyes of the youths.
However, Wang’s vision is too ambitious and he tries to tell too much in too many ways. There’s the struggle for material objects, the repression of artistic and intellectual thought, the social and economical significance of the countryside factories, even a sexual scandal. The film jumps from theme to theme, using Wang Han as the eyes, but with so many tales to tell, none of them end up mattering.
“11 Flowers” is a slow and steady look into a part of Chinese history that perhaps can be appreciated better by those more familiar with the era.
The Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase runs from Friday, April 13th through Thursday, April 19th.
“11 Flowers” will be shown on Saturday, April 14 at 4 p.m. and Tuesday, April 17 at 12:30 p.m. at Dole Cannery Theatres.
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