Red Cherry

on June 06, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
   Based on true accounts of wartime survivors, "Red Cherry" China's 1995 Oscar submission is a piercingly effective drama that follows two Chinese children during World War II. After escaping their country's political turmoil just before the war, ChuChu (Guo Ke-Yu) and Lu Xiaoman (Xu Xiaoli) enroll in a school in Moscow, only to find that haven's safety torn apart with devastating brutality during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
   Writer Jiang Qitao and director Ye Ying carefully construct the film so that a jarring contrast marks the peacefulness of the first half hour and the unmitigated violence of the rest. That introduction is crucial in providing the character exposition for ChuChu and Xiaoman that will later explain their extraordinary endurance. In one early scene, ChuChu recalls with quiet strength before a packed auditorium how she was forced to witness her father's execution. The anecdote is filmed in a single long and painful take, the camera never leaving her face. An exquisite actress at just 17, Guo Ke-Yu deservedly won last year's best actress prize at the Shanghai Film Festival for her work here. Guo also carries off the significant task of retaining her character's dignity when German soldiers arrest her and place her in a most undignified situation: She's subjected to a horrifying body tattoo that forces her to become a living mural honoring the Third Reich. Her acting is matched at every turn by Xu Xiaoli's, whose character uses his wiles to escape the Nazis in Moscow only to meet a striking and unforgettable fate.
   Cutting between ChuChu and Xiaoman, director Ye establishes a suspenseful and compelling narrative that compensates for some slow going in early expository sections. China's biggest mainland hit, "Red Cherry" also made headlines as the country's first film to allow partial nudity, deemed by the censors necessary to the story.    Starring Guo Ke-Yu, Luo Xiaoman and Vladmill Nizmiroff. Directed by Ye Ying. Written by Jiang Qitao. Produced by Ye Ying. Chinese- and Russian-language; subtitled. No distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 120 min.
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