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Please Vote for Me - documentary DVD / arthouse and international DVD / foreign language DVD review
PLEASE VOTE FOR ME Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 4 1/2 stars
Featuring: Luo Lei, Cheng Cheng, Xu Xiaofei
Director: Wiejun Chen   Distributor: First Run Features
DVD release: 19 August 2008   Runtime: 57 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Audio tracks (Mandarin - Dolby Digital 2.0), Subtitles (English)

Maybe it's because I don't have kids, but when I sat down to watch Please Vote for Me I figured I was in for a lighthearted romp. Foolish me. As any parent will know, children are mean and vicious and will stoop to anything in order to get elected.

Although the third graders in Wiejun Chen's delightful and frightening film may be new to democracy, they instantly get what it takes to win an election. First, pick on your opponent's weak points by exaggerating the truth of those weaknesses. If that doesn't persuade your fellow classmates to vote for you, then try lying and bribery. Never mind that the position being vied for is class monitor; these kids go at it as if they were running for ruler of the world.

Please Vote for Me is an alarming study in how it is we come to vote for the person we perceive as the lesser evil. The fact that that candidate may in fact be a dumbass and a bully doesn't concern us so much as keeping those with heart and new ideas out of power. (Here in the U.S., we're busy patting ourselves on the back for having just elected a black president who appears to have heart and genuinely original, compassionate ideas. But even as I write this, a vicious little man by the name of Saxby Chambliss has just been reelected to the senate after a very mean-spirited race in Georgia.)

Cheng Cheng, an affable chubby boy, wants to boss people around while Luo Lei says, "I don't want to control others. They should learn to think for themselves." From that, you'd think the choice was obvious. But Luo Lei, we quickly learn, has a reputation for beating the tar out of kids who cross him. When Xu Xiaofei, a flute-playing girl with a charming smile and a shy demeanor, enters the race the class erupts into chants of "Overthrow Cheng Cheng!" and "Violent Luo Lei!"

A talent contest is held so that the voters may learn about the moral character of their future leader. Cheng Cheng sings a pop song, gets everyone singing along with him, and then goes around the room asking each kid for his or her vote, wishing upon them good karma. Cheng Cheng rises to the top of the polls.

Luo Lei's parents strike back at the popular Cheng Cheng with a bribe: they take the whole class on a sightseeing trip. This is so blatantly unfair that it's very difficult not to see both democracy and its corruption as somehow universal, as if we had a gene for screwing ourselves.

In a subsequent debate, Cheng Cheng charges Xiaofei with being too dainty to supervise the class: she cried during the talent show, breaking down before an onslaught of jeers and cries of "Overthrow Xiaofei!" As one little girl says, "You think you get votes by yelling?" Well, yes, and apparently you don't need Karl Rove as your campaign manager to win by yelling, threats, and other forms of intimidation.

Delightful and at times funny, this short film is also chilling-in short, it ought to be shown and discussed in every elementary school classroom. By which I mean we all ought to study it because, apparently, when it comes to practicing democracy, we're all still children.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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