Wang Xiaoshuai, director of ‘Beijing Bicycle’ also directed this 2011 affecting film. ’11 Flowers’ is set in 1975 and tells the story of 11 year old Wang Han who lives with his parents and sister in the country. Originally from the city, the family do their best to survive in the tail end of the Cultural Revolution when thousands of ‘intellectuals’ were expected to better themselves through hard work in rural areas. Like ‘Beijing Bicycle’, it is the story of people coping in changed circumstances.
Wang Han has three friends. Together, they spend their time exploring in the forest and by the river. At school, the day starts with gymnastic exercises in the playground for every pupil. Wang Han is selected to lead these, a position of honour but one that brings its own difficulties. The teacher suggests that he should have a new (and smarter) shirt if he is to lead from the front. This places a burden on his family and she lets him know how hard this will be. She relents, though, after talking to the teacher and uses a year’s worth of coupons to buy the material.
The shirt is a source of pride for Wang Han but also forms the device around which the central part of the film is based. When the boys play down by the river, the shirt is stolen and, knowing he cannot return home without it, Wang Han searches for it even though this may put him in danger.
Throughout the film, we see an eleven year old boy trying to make sense of the adult world as he and his friends listen in on conversations, observe adult behaviour and exist at the edge of dramatic events. Adults who accept but do not agree with the regime’s policies, patriotic displays in the town, tensions between factions at the factory and disputes over family honour are all covered. Liu Wenqing who plays Wang Han has a doleful face; the perfect mirror for us to view the story of a boy at the end of childhood innocence.
’11 Flowers’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?