Please Vote for Me

Robin Clifford 
Please Vote for Me
Laura Clifford 
Back room deals, bribery, payoffs, glad-handing, bad-mouthing and under-handed skullduggery are all a part of the political game. We think this, often times, par for the course for our elected officials. But, not for three 8-year olds at the Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan, Central China, where, for the first time, a democratic election is under way to select the new class monitor in “Please Vote for Me.”

Director Weijin Chen concocts a film about a fascinating social/political experiment that brings one tiny piece of democratic process to long time Communist China. At the Wuhan School, the class monitor has always been selected by the teacher. Now, though, as an exercise in politics, one class is given the choice to pick one of three students - incumbent Luo Lei, Cheng Cheng and Xu Xiaofei ­ for the prestigious and powerful post. Let the campaign begin!

The prosperity of Wuhan Province shows in its inhabitants. The more affluent families now have just one or two children and these offspring are afforded every advantage. Luo Lei is the son of a prominent local police official and the boy’s father uses his influence, like bringing the whole class on an exciting monorail ride, to help tip the electoral balance in favor of Luo. Xu’s mom coaches her in how to make friends and influence people. Cheng eschews his mother’s help but gets off on the taste of power that the election brings.

As the campaign gets under way, each candidate has to participate in three tasks ­ a talent show, a debate and a political speech setting forth their campaign pledges with the titular plea, “Please Vote for Me.” This seemingly democratic experiment, though, is puppet-mastered by the kids’ parents as they strive to influence the children that anything goes in the election. The result is a campaign that uses name-calling and favor-giving that would make the old Tammany Hall crowd proud. Cheng even accuses Luo of dictatorial tendencies, showing that his, Cheng’s, managerial style would best benefit the class.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the election of the future rulers of China and their political methods. Suffice it to say that in the end the voters get what they deserve. Kind of like the US following the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The DVD lacks any extras. For the film, though, I give it a solid B.

In China's Wuhan Central Province school a lesson in democracy is taught all too well when teachers make the decision to hold class elections for the classroom monitor, a position usually appointed.  The teachers have decided which three eight-year-old third-graders will run, and allow each of them to choose two assistants to mount their campaigns.  The current monitor, Luo Lei, is chosen, as are the confident, chubby Cheng Cheng and the shy girl of the group, Xu Xiafei.

Director Weijun Chen has captured all the politicking of American democracy in this microcosm with more drama than one would imagine.  Tides turn and change.  When negative campaigning doesn't do the trick, bribery comes into play.  The candidates even have powerful supporters in their parents who are so invested in their child winning, each and every one has a hand in writing the final election speech.

Young Xu, the daughter of a single mother, seems to get the least stage management at home. She also crumbles early on, when Luo starts with dirty tricks, heckling her first performance (inexplicably, a talent show is part of the process).  Cheng Cheng, who seems the early lead, has a mother in television production and is routinely led through practice runs of both his performance and speeches.  He also has the most impassioned assistant.  But Luo Lei, despite being accused of having beaten on his classmates, has folks in the police department able to pull strings, like getting his entire class a ride on a monorail.

Chen keeps us in the grip of his material and maintains suspense as to who will prevail. The film's ending is yet another ironic note on democracy - the vote which is routinely touted here as being the thing isn't much of anything if it is cast for the wrong reasons.


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