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Please Vote For Me (Weijun Chen, 2007)


     China’s democratic dictatorship is scrutinized through the cutest possible lens in Weijun Chen’s charming, but insubstantial, documentary Please Vote for Me. Following the fledgling political careers of three candidates appointed by their teachers to compete for the title of class monitor of their third grade class, the film attempts to use them as signifiers that suggest all democratic process is flawed. Early on, one student asks “What is a democracy?” In response, he is told “It means people are their own masters,” but the film that follows seems to argue just the opposite. From the very start, these tyro tyrants undermine each other, in an attempt to skew their classmates’ perception of their opponents. Chen’s camera follows the students throughout this process. He peers into covert strategy sessions in the bathroom, and into their home lives, in which we see parents conspiring against the other children and coaching their own.


     It doesn’t take long before this educational experiment turns ugly. Xiaofei, the only girl among the contenders, is reduced to tears at a talent show performance. Luo Lei, who has two years of class monitor experience to back up his claim to the title, quickly begs to drop out of the race. Perhaps not too ironically, chubby Cheng Cheng is revealed to be a natural political. A Machiavellian presence, even at this point in his life, he works to undermine his opponents from the start. He turns their classroom debates into an attack on his peers’ personal foibles. He lies around in his underwear, complaining, as his parents draft his political speeches for him. He makes empty promises that he has no intention to keep. His sliminess seems to be forefronted to suggest that there is some sort of corruption inherent in the competitive process of democracy, but the election’s eventual outcome works against such pat theories.


     To be sure, the student voters in Please Vote for Me are a capricious bunch. It’s difficult to tell, though, where clever editing has been employed to create false drama. Though Chen may not be dealing with a subject of great importance here, his allegorical intentions are clear enough that alertness to such matters is required. More irksome still is that the film runs out of things to say rather early on. Even at just under an hour, it’s a bit overlong. The kids it features are cute, but they are too young to be articulate. While their name-calling does provide a neat analogy for smear campaigning, there’s not enough of a political process beyond that present to make this classroom feel like a true microcosm of anything from the real world. As such, Please Vote for Me feels overambitious, but difficult to dislike. At once, it seems an indicator of dubiousness of the movie’s thesis that the election doesn’t result any upheaval of order, but a ratification of it that the results bring plenty of tears



Jeremy Heilman