Coming of age stories are nothing new, but coming of age near the end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1978 makes for a great story. 11 Flowers is a story about 11-year-old Wang Han, who lived in Southeast Asia with his father, mother, and sister during the revolution. It was no doubt a memorable year for him, but the political aspect of that year was hardly significant when compared to his personal struggles.
The plot of the story comes together very loosely, making it feel more chronologically accurate.
Much of the film centers on Wang Han and his three friends, Mouse, Louse, and Wei Jun. The boys spend their days watching girls, playing, fighting, and telling stories like any friends would; but Wang Han is different. He lingers longer to observe his surroundings, most of the time listening in on adult conversations. He’s a wise and precocious kid; the unintended leader of the group. Unfortuntately, getting involved in adult matters only brings about adult dilemmas, and Wang Han finds himself in quite a dilemma when he mistakenly entangles himself with a killer.
There’s a deep sense of family love and connection to the neighborhood throughout the film. Wang Han and his family live in a presumably middle class village and get along with their neighbors very well, even though they don’t always see eye to eye politically. The film seems to carry the underlying message that one’s dilemmas are often comparable to another’s, no matter how simple or complex, and the best thing to do is keep on moving along helping one another.
The story features everyday experiences, making it very relatable, despite the fact that it is set in China in 1978. People are people. Human nature has never changed, and never will. 11 Flowers humanizes such a politically charged period in China, and does this very well. The inclusion of side stories and gossip helps to aid in this achievement.
11 Flowers features the Standard Mandarin tongue, with English subtitles. It begins in black and white, and then fades to color. The entire film is made up of beautiful but simple shots; many of them reminiscent of paintings, which Wang Han and his father are very fond of. There is one really nice scene where Wang Han is watching the adults talk — not an uncommon experience — but the camera follows his eye and moves as he is presumably moving.
Yes, there are hundreds of films about growing up, but no two experiences are exactly the same. Great experiences are destined to make great movies.