- Gov. Sarah Palin
...oh relax, I'm just kidding!
This can't be real, can it?! These super-cute Chinese munchkins turned into backstabbing Muppets? About 15 minutes into this hour-long documentary, I was convinced I was being punked by some genius Saturday Night Live digital sketch. Everything was too perfectly hysterical, it couldn't be genuine. But as much as I love SNL, its writers couldn't come up with something this amazing.
The winner of the grand jury prize at the prestigious 2007 Silverdocs Film Festival--and a film that made the first cut for an Academy Award nomination--Please Vote for Me sets the cameras on a third-grade class (look closely and you can see China's gold-medal winning women's gymnastics team!) at Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan, part of Central China. While China has been governed by the Communist people's democratic dictatorship--and while school class monitors are usually appointed by teachers--Evergreen decided to try an experiment. By the start of the school year, teachers had selected three candidates for class monitor. The kids were allowed to pick two assistants and campaign for votes in the first-ever election at a Chinese school.
"What is democracy?" asks an unseen filmer to a young girl as the film opens. "I don't know. What does it mean?" she responds, cute as a button. She's about to learn, as her three options for monitor are revealed:
The race becomes just as much about the parents as the kids. We get a glimpse into the trio's home life, where the parents live vicariously through their children. The elders try their best to ensure a win, whether it's writing speeches, suggesting bribes or initiating a dirt-digging campaign to slander opponents. Again, I ask: Is this for real?!
Director Weijun Chen doesn't intrude much--outside of very brief questions by the videographers, we just watch the mayhem unfold. The film is a fascinating hour that opens the door to a sharply perceptive microcosm that reveals a lot about human nature--an accurate portrayal that is both funny and frightening (kind of like watching Hello Kitty scratch your eyes out).
I question how much coaching came before the cameras started rolling--for both the kids and the parents--but I don't really care. You can't deny the delicious drama watching a bunch of 8-year-olds connive their way through the emotionally draining (and brutal) campaign, smiling the whole time as they make some shrewd moves. It's equally entertaining watching the voters chime in. They also feel the pressure--often with the candidates hovering over their shoulders--about who to support, and make some pretty savvy observations of their own.
With the recent Beijing Olympics (you've probably memorized the Chinese national anthem by now) and the upcoming landmark U.S. presidential election, there isn't a better time to watch this. Not only does it parallel big-time U.S. politics, it also shares the surprisingly relatable lives of everyday people. What fascinated me the most was the film's universality: These kids and parents are just like everyone else. While our countries and cultures are worlds apart, the basic human emotions, needs, hopes and fears are the same, and that's a heartwarming realization.
And did I mention the kids are insanely cute, like so cute you almost can't stand it? I dare you not to smile as Cheng Cheng practices for the talent show, his two advisors chiming in with their advice on his singing--a hilarious exchange that perfectly encapsulates the heart and soul of this gem.