on January 24, 2007
After her husband and child died, the peasant Meili Zhang founded a school for the children in her isolated, parched village in northwest China. She was not a teacher, but she did her best and she loved her kids. She founded the school, she says, "so that the kids may have hope." Xia Yu, a gorgeous young woman from Beijing a thousand miles away, and a "real" teacher, comes to help at the school. She corrects their pronunciation, teaches them some English, and encourages Meili to obtain a computer. Of course, mutual culture shock sets in. Xia stares in disbelief as the same pail of water is used to wash clothes, rinse your face, make tea with orange rinds, and water the donkey. Meili can only respond to her guest's strange ways with "Teacher Xia, you city people are strange." What transpires is an unfolding friendship of two women from radically different socio-economic and cultural contexts. Two sub-plots revolve around the men in their lives--Meili's love for the local "film projectionist" Wang Shu, and Xia's estrangement from her husband because of her growing affection for Meili and her school. Late in the film turn about is fair play when Xia takes the entire class of peasant kids to Beijing. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
on May 15, 2011
Chinese (mainland) films are earnest projects, and this story is certainly one. It's remarkably similar to another called NOT ONE LESS, where a female teacher becomes determined to help the ignorant and poor charges in her care.
Far in the miserable, cold and dusty parts of northwest China, old stone villages sit, still inhabited, with sheepherding and potatoes as the main income for the peasants. They look like stereotypical 1960's Communist peasants, with dirty faces, forlorn expressions, flat effect, torn and patched clothing, ill-fitting and baggy pants. Both children and adults dress in a bulky unattractive way, with their skin and teeth in terrible condition.
In one of these villages, a woman loses a husband and then a child, and feels herself therefore not even a woman, a person with nothing to be proud of. She finds a solution to her despair in starting a school for the local sheepherding people's children. They're not a pretty sight, but they're very obedient and determined in their small, dusty stone school. To think, if the time is 2007, that not even a school had existed in this town! The teacher's conviction that education will literally pull them all out of the dust is based on her husband's foolish stealing of steel pins holding down a local train track, causing two trains to derail. He is, naturally, sentenced to death, for what he thought a petty crime. His widow, our heroine, thinks that if he'd had education, he would not have been so ignorant and still be alive.
What pleases this viewer in such films is the sheer realism of these desolate Chinese towns, the blowing dust, the sad interiors, the furniture and food details, the clothing, the stoical and blank faces of the people, the everyday misery such as pulling water up from a well with a knotted rag rope.
As the plot thickens, another teacher arrives, a Beijing young woman fed up with a bad marriage but loaded with money, a giddy and silly type, but educated beyond the local woman's literacy. She immediately is correcting the elder's pronunciation of the ideograms in front of the class. Her husband eventually becomes part of the plot, as does a male movie projectionist, already married, who falls in love with the headstrong older teacher.
I cannot guess others' perceptions, but for me, the plot is secondary to the overall feeling of the village and its grinding poverty. If anything, I can guess that these films will one day be seen by even the Chinese as long-forgotten histories of their own peoples, their ways of lives in different and difficult places. Are these films dull to most? Probably, unless you want to see old China.
I like the little English lesson the Beijing lady tries to give: the heroine puts the new words together in the Chinese way, "STUDY STUDY HARD DAY DAY UP", which means, "STUDY HARD EVERY DAY!" The doubling of nouns and verbs to intensify or pluralize a meaning, as in "chop-chop" meaning "fast-fast" cannot be clearer.
When the kids ultimately get treated to a trip to Beijing, in a supermodern hotel and spa, with new clothes and glitz, the teacher and students start crying at their determination to return to their desperate school and STUDY STUDY HARD DAY DAY UP".
It's almost religious! Except it's Chinese materialism at its finest, inspiring!
on October 20, 2013
This is another fine film exploring the almost universal theme evident in modern Chinese cinema of self sacrifice in the service of the common good. Many of the best Chinese films emphasize the importance of duty to others over the pursuit of self interest. Among the best of this genre is "The Road Home", starring the luminescent Gong Li, and, more recently, "Aftershock". The theme of service to others is less political propaganda than it is a moral/ethical appeal to the concept of the common good. "What shall it profit a man/woman if they should gain the whole world, but lose their own soul" is the concept as presented in western religion. The soul being one's sense of belonging the family/community/society/nation.
Modern Chinese cinema from the mainland generally explores this theme within many varied settings and with great finesse and "For the children" is a good example of it.
A young woman teacher, in a remote area, struggles to decide where her loyalties lie, with self interest and personal advancement, or with the kids whose own futures depend on the self sacrifice of people such as herself.
Beautifully shot amid remarkable scenery, with some fine acting, the film follows the lead characters internal and external struggle to identify the true meaning and purpose of an individuals life. Quite moving at times, it forces us, the viewer, to confront the meaning, or lack thereof, in our own career/employment path.
Unfortunately, my copy of the DVD was of disappointingly poor quality, with very low grade resolution, which somewhat marred the viewing experience. Given that the scenic visuals played a significant part of the film's impact, the fuzzy/foggy DVD quality was quite disturbing. Otherwise, the film is fascinating, moving, and enjoyable. Recommended.