A well-made story set against the backdrop of post-revolutionary China that, despite it’s strengths, often comes off as boring and exploitative. I have no problem with child nudity in, say, “Let the Right One In,” but the movie’s obsession with the four-year-old’s protagonist’s genitals is not only creepy, but just plain wrong. I’ve seen less nudity in a Lars Von Trier flick.
Fang Qiangqiang (Bowen Dong) is a rebellious tyke who is dropped off at a grim boarding school by his father, than left to sink or swim, so to speak. What follows is a kind of brainwashing sicker than anything you’ll see in “The Human Centipede” or “Audition.”
The kids are teased with the superfluous exercise of receiving little red paper flowers for good behavior. All Qiang wants is the flowers, but his habitual bed-wetting and daily transgressions make the others immediately dislike him. Hence- no flowers. The boarding school is barren and cold, except for a few toys that don’t look like they couldn’t make the cut for the Goodwill donation box.
Immediately, it is established that all independent thought is squelched at this academy. The children are taught to eat, drink, poop, and sleep as one. These kids are being taught to be compliant, much to the horror of this free-thinking viewer. Meanwhile, Qiang stirs up trouble like a tiny Randall P. McMurphy, inciting rebellion when he convinces the impressionable children that strict Mrs. Li (Zhao Rui) is a tyke-eating monster.
This movie actually has a lot to say about values both Chinese and American. The scene where Mrs. Li goes ballistic about Qiang getting a female classmate to lift up her skirt so he can give her an ‘injection’ is particularly telling, as it is an unhealthy reaction to a natural exchange between children. Not only does she reprimand Qiang fiercely, she also resorts to name-calling to the girl for ‘letting a boy take off her pants.’
However, I will say that the nudity bothered me, and before you say “That’s your problem,” let me ask you this- would you let your little boy, your brother, your nephew get undressed for a camera at this developmental age? And before you say “it’s his rights,” children of this age have no rights when it comes to ‘choosing’ to flaunt their body in front of the camera.
It would be different, of course, if the nudity were crucial to this plot. It isn’t. Also, I’m almost certain they terrified the living s**t out of these children to get a performance. The tears of these toddlers are so incredibly real that the movie has almost a documentary feel. A good thing? Maybe, unless you take into account that no child this age can give a performance of this caliber. Either they’re the best child actors ever. Or… there’s something else going on here.
The film mirrors the totalitarian regime of the era, so that’s food for thought, if you like that sort of thing. The children are adorable, if only they were fully clothed more often. Yeah, I’ve decided for sure. I’m rounding the rating off to a 2.5.