Judge Clark Douglas approves this review.
An experiment in democracy by Chinese 8-year-olds.
With the controversy surrounding the 2008 Summer Olympics in China and the Presidential campaign here in the United States, the Please Vote for Me DVD release could not have been better-timed. This is a documentary about a group of three Chinese third graders. China is a communist country, but a local school has decided to conduct an experiment. They are going to hold a democratic election for the office of class monitor (quite an esteemed position among the kiddies). The teacher wants the students to get an understanding of how democracy works. In past years, the school had simply appointed a class monitor. This time, students will have a chance to choose for themselves.
The first candidate is a spirited young man named Luo Lei. He is the incumbent and has been class monitor for the past two years. Luo Lei is not particularly popular with many of the kids, as he has developed a reputation as a bully. A pretty large chunk of students at the school claim to have been beaten by Luo Lei at some point simply for stepping out of line. Luo Lei's "fascist" regime of the schoolyard is being challenged by Cheng Cheng, who is declaring that he will be a "manager, not a dictator" of the students. Cheng Cheng is a charismatic and slightly chubby young man whose pleasant demeanor is occasionally subverted by his severe temper. Finally, there's Xu Xiaofei, a quiet and shy young girl who seems to be the gentlest and most timid of the three young candidates. The candidates have one thing in common: they are remarkably smart and resourceful. I know China has plenty of problems, but I imagine their education system is working on some level. This film suggests that a lot of the 8-year-olds over there could run circles around kids the same age here.
As these three begin their campaigns, they turn to their parents for advice. At first, the parents offer the expected words of wisdom. "Be yourself, be brave, don't be afraid to speak up." The campaign quickly takes a nasty turn, and Please Vote for Me reveals itself as a particularly astonishing snapshot. Given a small taste of the democratic process, the students almost immediately begin to spin it and corrupt in the way so many political candidates have throughout the years. Name-calling and mud-slinging begin almost immediately (the candidates attempt to compile lists of their opponents' faults that they can pull out during the debates).
As the candidates and the campaign increase in intensity, so do the parents. There are moments in which each of the candidates seems to be more or less out of the race, and they will make a surging comeback by using a dirty move or bribing the students. Winston Churchill once said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." That's certainly true of the young students in the school, who are as easily swayed by presents and promises as…well, as much of the American public.
The campaign progresses, and you can sense each of the young candidates growing weary. They get grumpy and irritable, and start to complain about having to memorize speeches. At some point, every one of them is reduced to tears by the savage insults being tossed at them by their classmates (poor Xu Xiaofei is told she can't possibly lead the students because she "eats too slow"). The film quite remarkably reflects the events and emotions of an actual democratic political campaign, enhanced to a level of painful satire by the fact that commonplace insults and tactics that we think of as "childish" are being employed by actual children. For all of our supposedly remarkable progress here in America, we're still resorting to the same old mudslinging, false promises, campaign spin, and bribery. I will not tell you how this film ends, but let me say that I found the final scene to be both cynical and punishingly truthful.
Another oft-repeated Winston Churchill quote: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." That's the kind of exasperated truth that Please Vote for Me reflects. Democracy is a beautiful thing on paper (I think so, anyway), but as long as we have lies, corruption, and apathy, democracy and every other form of government is doomed to at least some level of failure. Who would have thought that a documentary about a few Chinese third graders would be such a thought-provoking conversation-starter? Please Vote for Me is an absolute must-see. It's got all the emotional effectiveness and entertainment value of a great Michael Moore documentary without any of the self-indulgent spin. Set aside 57 minutes of your time and see this film.
Video quality and sound are merely adequate, but they aren't particularly
important factors in this film. There are no extras on the DVD. Not guilty.
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