Changtong can relate the events of student protests in 1919, blow for blow, but
he has no idea what happened during the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. He
is the perfect product of China’s educational system. The teenager is so wound
up with nationalist fervor, he frequently parades through the streets of Pingyao
chanting Maoist anthems, but his indoctrination will be profoundly tested by
life after graduation. Du Haibin follows Zhao for five eventful years, charting
his painful maturation in A Young Patriot
screens today as part of the 2015 Asian American International Film Festival in
from a working class urban family, Zhao is the sort of student who is a prime
target for the state’s unceasing propaganda campaign. When we first meet him
through Du’s lens, he gives the Communist government credit for so conscientiously
providing for him and his classmates. However, Du and editor Mary Stephens
quickly cut to his parents, who explain all the economic sacrifices they made
to pay for his school fees over the years. Reality is not what he thinks it is,
as he learns when he is finally admitted to university and forced to take out considerable
student loans in his own name.
Zhao tries to maintain his patriotic zeal by volunteering for the campus propaganda
association (they really do use the term “propaganda”), he cannot help noticing
how greater opportunities are afforded to his better connected classmates.
However, nothing will bring home the realities of China’s extreme social
stratification like service as a volunteer teacher in the grindingly poor
Sichuan mountainside. For a mere fifteen days, Zhao and his colleagues will
provide Dialiangshan’s children the only education they will get until another
such fifteen day excursion can be mounted.
the Sichuan trip essentially completes Zhao’s intellectual and emotional
divorce from the Communist worldview. To his credit, he also develops
heretofore unseen empathy, maintaining a connection to the village after their
brief term of service. Alas, contemporary China has one more curve ball to
throw him, when the corrupt local authorities nationalize both the new house
his parents are constructing and the longtime home of his grandparents for
their latest dodgy development scheme.
its way, Patriot is an epic film, but
Du and Stephens (who deserves major award consideration) pare it down to a
tightly compelling, keenly telling narrative. Clocking in under two hours, it
is far more manageable than Hoop Dreams—and
its stakes are far greater. Frankly, few documentaries force the audience to so
fundamental revise their attitudes towards it subject. When we first meet the
rather obnoxious young man, we instinctively tip him for someone due for a rude
awakening, but we eventually feel for him quite deeply as he and his family
face Job-like misfortunes.
has an extraordinarily shrewd eye for relevant little details, such as damning
snippets of the historically inaccurate indoctrination that passes for
instruction at Zhao’s university. Yet, that carefully constructed
misinformation campaign turns to dust when Zhao and his fellow students looking
into the neglected eyes of their Sichuan students. Shrewdly, Du also uses the
concurrent rise and fall of “Red Revival” Party leader Bo Xilai to echo and
punctuate Zhao’s bitter loss of faith.
This is a hugely important film on a macro level,
but it is completely gripping on a micro level. Without question, it is Du’s
best work to date, eclipsing the admirably brave and immersive 1428. Very highly recommended for anyone
seeking an intimate understanding of China’s “Post-1990’s Generation,” A Young Patriot screens this afternoon
(7/26) at the Village East, as part of this year’s AAIFF.
Labels: AAIFF '15, Chinese Cinema, Documentary, Du Haibin