11 Flowers

11 Flowers

Wang Han (third from left, played by Liu Wenqing) with Louse (Zhang Kexuan), Mouse (Zhong Guo Liuxing), and Wei Jun (Lou Yihao), as seen in 11 FLOWERS, a film by Wang Xiaoshuai. A First Run Features release.

11 Flowers

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11 Flowers (2011/2013)

Opened: 02/22/2013 Limited

Quad Cinema/NYC02/22/2013 - 02/28/20137 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Chinese Narrative (Mandarin, Shanghainese w/English subtitles)

Rated: Unrated

From the Director of Beijing Bicycle and In Love We Trust


One of China's foremost Sixth Generation directors, Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle, In Love We Trust) tells a striking, autobiographical coming-of-age tale set in the final days of China's Cultural Revolution in his new film 11 Flowers.

Eleven-year-old Wang Han lives with his family in a remote village in Guizhou province. Life is tough, but they make the most of what little they have. When Wang is selected to lead his school through their daily gymnastic regimen, his teacher recommends that he wear a clean, new shirt in honor of this important position -- a request that forces his family to make a great sacrifice. But one afternoon, soon after Wang is given the precious shirt, he encounters a desperate, wounded man, who takes it from him. The man is on the run, wanted by the authorities for murder. In no time the fates of Wang and the fugitive are intertwined.

Beautifully performed by a troupe of child actors and vividly creating a sense of time and place, 11 Flowers is a delicate and moving film about growing up in a time of great upheaval.

Writer / Director Wang Xiaoshuai graduated from the Beijing Film Academy. He wrote and directed his first feature, The Days, about the last days of a deteriorating relationship between two artists in Beijing. The film was initially met with acclaim but soon after blacklisted and banned in China. In 1995, he directed Frozen, a look at the Beijing avant-garde art world. The same year, he directed A Vietnamese Girl, which tells the story of two rural migrants - a naive young boy and a small-time con man - who abduct, and then fall in love with, a female bar singer. The film was rejected by the censorship committee and required 3 years of re-editing and a change of title (So Close to Paradise) before being approved. In 1998, it was selected for Un Certain Regard at Cannes. His fifth feature, Beijing Bicycle, won the Silver Bear at Berlin in 2001, and its two leading male actors shared the Best Young Actor Prize. In 2003, Drifters was screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. In 2005, Shanghai Dreams won the Jury Prize in Cannes. In 2008, In Love We Trust won the Silver Bear for best screenplay in Berlin. In 2010, Chongqing Blues was in competition at Cannes.

Selected Praise

"Set during the waning stage of China's Cultural Revolution, 11 Flowers is by turns wistful, hopeful and even funny, balancing a momentous historical context with a stirring evocation of childhood. Takes its place among Wang Xiaoshuai's finest films." -- Justin Chang, Variety

Director's Statement

11 Flowers is an autobiographical film. This child, his friends, his parents, the painting classes, the Cultural Revolution and the factory born from the Third Front movement all come from my childhood memories. There are obviously new narrative elements but I did meet this runaway murderer and I saw him being arrested.

The story of 11 Flowers is infused with the memories of my life in Guiyang, in the province of Guizhou. In the mid '60s, my parents followed the Chinese government's call asking families to move the main factories in charge of national production inland in order to defend China against a potential attack from the USSR. We left Shanghai to go and live in this poor province. I grew up in this countryside with my older sister, while our parents hoped to rapidly be able to go back to Shanghai. This period of my life left a profound mark on me. We lived in a small village that had been built for us near the Shanghai factory, then dismantled, then put together again. We felt the burden of the obligations my parents -- and all other grown-ups in society -- were tied down with. I saw how this movement and the Cultural Revolution changed them.

When I became an adult, I realized that very few people knew about the Third Front movement, which pushed these city-dwellers to live with their family in the middle of the countryside. In my films, it was important for me to speak about these people and their lives. I even started a documentary on the subject so that my parents and their friends could tell us why and how they lived there. One of my previous films, Shanghai Dreams, already had my life in the Guizhou province as a background. The film recounted these workers' children awakening to the world, until their adolescence and their desire for independence. In 11 Flowers, the children are still young and do not understand the world that surrounds them. They do not question the situation they live in. This creates a gap between their point of view and the social and political backdrop.

When the mother is cooking, and the father and the son paint, or when the children play, I see my 11-year-old self, in 1975, in my village. When I started this film, I didn't know whether I'd be able to recreate my childhood with images. At the early editing stages, I showed my mother a few scenes from the film. Without knowing what the film was about, she instantly recognized the locations and the people, and was quite moved.

-- Wang Xiaoshuai, Writer/Director

About the Film

The Title 11 Flowers

The Chinese title for 11 Flowers, Wo 11, means "I am 11". This title uses the first-person pronoun to underline the fact that it is a personal story told in the first-person singular, by "me, Xiaoshuai." This is the story of my being 11, my memories, and my vision of this time period at the end of the Cultural Revolution. The international title 11 Flowers, encompasses my being 11 and the idea that I was in the spring of my life. The flowers are a kind of metaphor, and as it is, the father compares human beings with a bouquet of flowers. This also conveys the idea that we aren't in the city, but in the middle of the countryside.

The Cultural Revolution

There are so many stories and different points of views concerning the period of the Cultural Revolution. For this film, I adopted a specific, and different, stance: subjective narration, as seen through the eyes of this child. Wang Han does not have a point of view on the Cultural Revolution. At the time, the Chinese also were the spectators of what was happening; they didn't know what to say about that movement. Similarly, young Wang Han, who has no opinion, doesn't pass judgment and only watches what is happening until he decides to no longer follow the herd and takes his life in his hands. Suddenly, he's grown.

Chinese Cinema and the Cultural Revolution

Many Chinese films take place during the Cultural Revolution. They speak about the anti-right wing campaigns, the red guards. These are films in which we can feel that the director is looking -- today -- at what happened then: present-day adults looking back. I think it is sometimes interesting to forget the contemporary vision of the past and make films about what we experienced, what we felt at the time. This amounts to adopting an artistic point of view on history. This is why I didn't want to make a historical film about the Cultural Revolution. 11 Flowers is a film about a child and a murderer, about their destinies crossing paths, the problems they encounter and the consequences on their lives at the time. The child is a witness of 1975 Chinese society. The Cultural Revolution is merely a set, a backdrop. The world is seen from the level of children's eyes, Wang Han's eyes.

The name Wang Han

Wang Han, the main character's name, was my name when I was a child. I wanted to keep it as such in the film. And it is my voice which opens and closes the story. It was a way for me to assert my link with the film without changing the audience's relation to it, because they don't know that it's me. In a novel, it is easy to write in the first-person, and as a matter of fact, this is the way in which I had written the first version of my screenplay.

But in cinema, it is more complicated. I therefore sought to keep Xiaoshuai's "I/me" approach while creating a fictional work. Then I had to choose the actor. Who could be the double for me at age 11? I chose Liu Wenqing for the way he looks, the way he moves. I thought he didn't look like the other children. When I was a child, I felt I was different from the others, even from my friends. I found in him this impression of feeling different. This is why I chose him.

Casting Children

The children in the film are all professional actors and they've been in many productions, for television as well as cinema. The biggest challenge was to find children who looked like they were both city children and country children. Peasants. Once on filming location, I taught them the games I played when I was a kid. We children were very sheltered; we played with whatever we could find, for there was nothing. Our world was little more than "Long Live Chairman Mao, Long Live the Chinese Communist Party." We knew nothing about the outside world. We were quite naive. This is how I envisioned Wang Han and his friends.

A Co-Production with France

I had worked with France before, for some of my previous films, but 11 Flowers is an official coproduction between China and France; in addition, it is the first film coproduced by the two countries since the agreement signed by the two governments in April 2010. One of the highlights in the coproduction was the editing stage with Nelly Quettier. The challenge was for us to be able to understand each other, to agree on the visual form as well as on the essence of the film. We sometimes ended up speaking with our hands when our interpreter wasn't there. An additional difficulty for Nelly was that the rushes were in Chinese, a language she doesn't speak.

During sound editing, we had to recreate, in France, the sound atmosphere of the 1970s Chinese countryside. We spent some time looking for crickets or Chinese birds. The French team who joined me for the postproduction of the film was truly professional. It was especially interesting because they came after a Chinese team, for a film shot in Chinese and in China. This gave rise to really interesting exchanges.