Shen Jie|68'|2013

Documentary, China
Language: Chinese Dialect    Subtitle: Chinese and English

“The film is a song for the youth who cannot find a place in this overpowering environment.” – Shen Jie

Shen Jie’s Little Proletarian is a wild independent documentary that follows a group of troubled youths in a small rural town in China. The film focuses primarily on Hai'er, a 14 year old boy who has been expelled from school and who now spends his days hanging around aimlessly with his friends. They fill their time fighting with their gang, racing around the countryside roads on their motorbikes, or lurking at the local hair salon. Frequent beatings and scolding from his angry father do no good, and Hai’er lands himself in trouble with the police, having been investigated several times in the past. After talking with ex-convicts and criminals he makes the decision to head for the big city, where he believes he can finally find his place in society, and more importantly, make big money.

Though undeniably a bit rough around the edges, Little Proletarian is a real gem, and has everything that could be wanted from an indie documentary – a strong sense of character and place, stunning visuals, rare social insight, and an untamed punk spirit. Hai'er makes for a great protagonist, every inch the consummate juvenile delinquent, and it’s both fun and shocking to see him and his gang going about their daily business and mischief. Though badly behaved and often unpleasant, whether taken on his own merits (or lack thereof) or as a symbol of an emerging new generation of wayward Chinese youths, there’s something very engaging about his story. Shen Jie takes an observational approach to the subject and his characters and never passes judgement, and the film is all the more intriguing as a result.

This is a side of Chinese youth which most viewers will be unfamiliar with, and what Shen Jie presents here feels fresh and surprising. Though the film covers some specifically Chinese societal issues there’s a definite universiality to its depictions of rebellion and misdeeds, and its portrayal of youths afflicted by boredom and trapped by a lack of opportunities reflects not only changes in modern China but around the world. Ultimately, it gives rise to the unanswered question as to whether Hai'er is the product of his environment and part of a larger trend in his country - and if so, what can be done?

text by James Mudge

Please click here to visit the Riverside Studios website for tickets to "Voices from China Now":  Little Proletarian + The Cold Winter.

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About the Director

Shen Jie (b1973, Zunyi,Ghuizhou)

Shen Jie was born in 1973 in Zunyi, Guizhou Province and graduated from Guizhou University. After completing his studies, between 2003 and 2006 he spent time travelling to many different regions north west of Yunnan Province, including Lugu Lake, Lijiang and Tibet. He began making documentary films in 2010.

Ghost Festival (2012)
I Give an Auspicious Occasion for My Country Dead (2013)
Little Proletarian (2013)