After a ten-year drought of entertainment films from 1966 to 1976, Chinese audiences were starved for big movies. Little Flower must have hit them like a cyclone in 1979. Wound up to a hundred percent fever pitch, fusing melodrama, romance, and war epic, Little Flower gave its audience years of entertainment value, ostentatiously and audaciously stuffed into one super-sized package.
Two female movie stars, Liu Xiaoqing and Joan Chen (in a role for which she won a best actress award) play characters both named ‘Xiaohua’, the one sold as a child by her parents in the 1930s out of poverty , the other rescued by those same parents from revolutionary refugees and given the name of the girl they lost. The second Xiaohua is orphaned along with her adoptive brother Yongsheng, a future revolutionary war hero. Meanwhile, the first Xiaohua has grown up to be a communist guerrilla fighter. Inevitably crossed identities fuel a complex of melodramatic coincidences and shock discoveries among lost parents and siblings, including a provocatively embedded (and visually reinforced) suggestion of illicit incestual love. The directors fit this into a structure of a patriotic war adventure, borrowing elements of ideological cinema while subverting them every chance they get. The abstract celestial finale must be seen to be believed. —Shelly Kraicer