Starring: Dong Bowen, Ning Yuanyuan, Chen Manyuan
Director: Zhang Yuan
Running Time: 92 mins
Little Red Flowers is a Chinese film about a young boy who goes to school for the first time, but struggles to fit in with the strict rules of the establishment.
It doesn’t quite maintain its quality right to the end, but I was still rather impressed at times by Little Red Flowers. Starting off with a strikingly dark and pointed opening to the story, and maintaining an impressive level of grit throughout the first half, it’s a film with a lot more depth than you’d expect at first, even though the direction it takes towards the film’s finale unfortunately takes away from its greatest intrigue.
First off, the best thing about this film is the genuinely striking way in which it opens. It may have the appearance and premise of a family film, but there’s a real oppressive darkness to the way in which the first act unfolds, with an ominous atmosphere dominating our young character’s arrival at school, and furthered by the series of rather shocking and unexpected ways in which many of the children face discipline.
Of course, the film alludes heavily to new codes of social conduct and discipline that came about after the Communist revolution in China, all the while taking place in that very time period, and that gives it an interesting extra level of depth from the start that shows it’s a whole lot more than a family film, featuring real and unpredictable drama.
So, as the film starts off in striking fashion, it actually manages to maintain an impressive and bold level of darkness and brutality throughout its first act, as we see a strong psychological battle growing between the strict teacher of the class and the young boy who has just arrived on the scene, and the unpredictability of their relationship throughout makes for absolutely riveting watching.
However, the biggest let-down comes in the form of the direction that the story takes towards the final act. With dark drama from the start, I was looking forward to a riveting and unpredictable finale to the film, however the story decides to take a different tack, returning to a simpler and admittedly more pleasant, albeit far less interesting, plot about young love, childhood innocence and nostalgia.
That’s not to say that those are story elements that simply don’t work, because we’ve seen them work beautifully on numerous occasions, however that’s not the case here. After such a striking opening half, I was really disappointed to see the film retreat back to something a lot safer and a lot less intriguing. Yes, it does put a sweet smile on your face at times, but it’s a real missed opportunity to carry out what could have been a really bold and properly riveting end to a surprisingly impressive film.
Overall, Little Red Flowers is undoubtedly a film of two halves. With riveting drama and a strikingly dark and powerful atmosphere from the start, the film’s opening is fantastic, but the way in which it brings things to a close is a lot less impressive, and rather disappointing in all truth, which is why I’m giving it a 7.0.