This probably marks the first time I'm consciously watching a propaganda film, and while it's amazingly cheesy by today's standards in terms of filmmaking techniques, I'd shudder to think the number of children who would have grown up weaned on this, and having the lead character of Pan Dongzi as their role model, immersing young impressionable minds into ideologies far beyond their grasp to discern. But for that era in the 1970s during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I guess you don't have much choice anyhow.
Shining Red Star refers to that motif adorning the cap of the Red Army soldiers, who as we are told, the liberators of poor peasants who were constantly exploited by rich (and also fat) capitalist bastards. The sounds of gunfire are welcomed amongst the villagers, as it signals a tide of change sweeping through the country, or fair treatment to all under the Communist ideology. And to think it really is quite strange where everyone has this permanent smile on their face, being elated when war draws close to their residence.
The story tells of the adventures of village boy Pan Dongzi, whom we see from the onset as very pro-liberation, and lights up the screen easily with his cherubic likable face, making it easy for him to become the marquee matinee star amongst children. We follow the boy from 1932 when he was 7 years old, up until his 13 years of age, where at each step, or misstep of the Red Army or Chairman Mao's strategy, this boy would act as a mouthpiece for policies and communist ideologies, spinning and rousing everyone's spirit to remember the promise of better times to come.
Then again, he's also there to impart some virtues to the young, such as courage, selflessness, sacrifice and sharing for the common good, and while these are positive values, they do not come without a spin for party politics. Everyone sing praises of the Red Army and Party, and exalt Chairman Mao to demi-god like status, with history lessons (such as where the Chairman was born) thrown in for good measure as well. As a member of the Children's Corp, they are told to pledge obedience and always to come to the defence of the Red political power. Capitalists, and the KMT whom they are fighting against as personified by Hu Han-san the evil landlord of Liuxi village, always get made to look stupid, inept, and just about every negative connotation you can think of. And I can't help but to laugh each time Dongzi's friend shows him the thumbs up sign when he earns brownie points for preaching or doing something that is agreeable to their virtues.
The film is billed as important because it records the ideology of that era, of the necessity, and probably willingness, to conform and literally sing the same tune, where guns not necessarily mean victory, but hardcore spirit and belief will. And it's quite disturbing to see how everyone's smile and actions were quite artificial, weird and mechanical, with acting skills a zilch, save for the child actor perhaps.
It actually contains a proper narrative as told through a child's eyes, where we see how Dongzi grows and gets laden with responsibilities to fulfil before finally being a cadre member, but that aside, you can actually see how powerful this tool can be when harnessing new recruits, and starting them young. If thou shalt have no other idol, then it really would be no wonder nor doubt as to the impact that this child character, and that of the movie have when setting mindsets.