Please Vote for Me

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

I’ve just watched these two Chinese documentaries. (This, and Last Train Home [q.v.].) We’d better be careful about making generalizations, but they make you think that Chinese filmmakers are pretty comfortable with the most obvious and even outlandish documentary contrivance and manipulation. In other words, they are clearly and nakedly setting stuff up, but not acknowledging that they are doing so. I should add that this contrivance and manipulation sure lead to an entertaining and insightful movie. That’s not an ethical excuse, but there is mitigation in the fact that ethical excuses are exactly what Please Vote for Me is about. If it’s not quite okay, then it does lead to some very entertaining insights and echoes.

This is the Chinese middle class, so things here are a lot more cheerful than they are for those migrant workers in that other movie. In fact, things here looks pretty prosperous, even pretty great. It’s so obvious that you almost want to resent it, but where tens and millions of Chinese citizens are trapped in a practical medieval servitude, this film shows how market economies have also super-infiltrated. And with very positive results. Also infiltrating, seemingly, is the idea and reality of democracy. This might be the conscious, intentional point of the movie, to the point of propaganda, or at least advocacy. That’s cool. Or maybe it’s just for marketing’s sake, which is a bit less cool.

Anyway, the wrinkle in this particular inquiry is that, as it turns out, democracy is a pretty dirty game. Always has been, always will be. We see this in ways that are both sobering and really entertaining. They sure picked the right kids, and sure followed them into the right situations! The fact that these youngsters experience all these opportunities and model all these savageries really sheds new light on the discussion, and drives it all home. It’s like Bugsy Malone! Pie-guns aside, these kids are gangsters. In fact, all these shot-reverse shots and don’t-mind-us moments aside, Please Vote for Me is really quiet enlightening. Striving, and the urge for freedom, and the willingness to kill in support of that urge, seem not to be systemic or ideological at all. These things are genetical, and bred in the bone. We need democracy! At the same time, and for an opposite reason, this is precisely why we need regulation as well.

There’s added fun and cautionary content in the way that the young candidates’ parents are implicated, and at fault, and quite naturally and lovingly working in their kids’ interests. And kids, who are capable of all sorts of nasty chicanery, are also, ultimately so sweet and vulnerable. The assassination of that little girl is chilling. The subsequent repentance of the culprits is so moving. Also, finally, that underwear moment is really funny!