King of the Children

dir. Chen Kaige

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Between the simple pleasures of Yellow Earth and the epic sweep of Farewell My Concubine, Chen Kaige made this deceptively small-scale masterpiece about a young schoolteacher who is assigned to a remote village during the Cultural Revolution.

Chen Kaige will not be introducing King of the Children on June 9th as listed on pg 51 of the 180 Guide. He will be introducing both Farewell My Concubine on June 6th and Yellow Earth on June 7th as well as joining us for an In Conversation With... on June 7th. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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Between the simple pleasures of Yellow Earth and the epic sweep of Farewell My Concubine, Chen Kaige made this deceptively small-scale masterpiece. Part allegory, part scorchingly political j'accuse, King of the Children recounts the story of an urban exile — a "sent-down" boy — who is assigned to teach children in a remote village in the lush Yunnan province during the Cultural Revolution. He finds a one-room, open-air schoolhouse, no textbooks, and a bunch of rowdy kids thirsty for knowledge. Encouraging his students to think creatively and imagine a different life for themselves, he becomes their hero — until the local authorities get wind of his "subversive" teachings and punish him. One of Chen's most purely beautiful films, King of the Children is also one of his most ambitious experiments in allegorical storytelling, blending in elements of magic realism that modulate and comment upon the film's story. "[King of the Children] takes its tonality from the harsh beauty of the Yunnan landscape of soaring forests and misty valleys: a territory of the mind where hard-edged realism blurs easily into hallucination.... By any standards, this follow-up to Yellow Earth and The Big Parade is also something like a masterpiece" (Tony Rayns, Time Out London).