Little Red Flowers

Little Red Flowers


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Boarding schools are the bane of middle-class English writers – even Dickens had a go. Little Red Flowers is different. The children are tiny and this is post-revolutionary China, when parents were expected to work and leave their little one(s) in a state-run kindergarten.

Quiang (Ning Yuanyuan) is not quite four when he is left, howling, in the care of Mrs Li (Zhao Rui) and her dedicated staff of helpers. He can’t dress himself and wets the bed, not that he is alone in this. Having to adjust to the rule of the red flowers and learn the importance of discipline is a problem.

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Mrs Li is strict, but fair. Well behaved children are rewarded with red flowers, which are pinned on a big board against their names in the main room for all to see. Quiang is desperate for a flower, but doesn’t know how to win one, and when he is ticked off for not doing what he is told, it makes him want to be naughtier. He doesn’t understand the parameters between good and not being good, or why he can’t just be given a red flower.

The danger of using children so young is their natural cuteness. It can dominate to such a degree that the story becomes an irrelevant add-on. Not so here, although the girls (particularly) are irresistible. Quiang can be wide-eyed and innocent, or a brat, especially later when he discovers bullying.

In these sensitive times when any physical contact between a grown up and a child is considered a criminal offence, Little Red Flowers emphasises knickers, bare bums, baby penises, nakedness and bodily functions to a disturbing degree. In one scene, Mrs Li goes around smelling the bottoms of half the class to find out who farted.

Essentially, this is the story of a misfit in an authoritarian school. Quiang is still at the age when he doesn’t know why. The other children have learnt the rules by rote. They are conditioned, which does not mean brainwashed. They know about naughty and are sometimes, which makes them giggle. Quiang can be generous – he loves girls – but he can also be destructive and unkind. Punishment, such as solitary confinement – no beatings, you will be glad to hear – means nothing. It makes him want to run away. And the teachers don’t know what to do with him.

He is a rebel without a cause, although he wouldn’t know what rebel means. He thinks Mrs Li is a monster with a tail, who eats children. As they say in school reports, “he is a bad influence”. And he is not yet four.

Reviewed on: 07 Jan 2007
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A rebellious three-year-old causes havoc in a state-run kindergarten in post-revolutionary China.
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Director: Yuan Zhang

Writer: Dai Ning, Yuan Zhang, based on the novel Could Be Beautiful by Shuo Wang

Starring: Ning Yuanyuan, Zhao Rui, Li Xiaofeng, Dong Bowen, Chen Manyuan

Year: 2006

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: China/Italy


Sundance 2006

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