Willemien Sanders
Dr. Willemien Sanders, lecturer, department of media and culture studies, Utrecht University.

Tensions rise and tears are shed while we follow young Chinese actors trained as Mao Zedong’s Red Guards reliving the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

In Character

Tracy Dong

China, 2018 75 minutes

What is the best way to say something about history? Or how can we actually learn from the past? Let’s agree that conventional documentaries might not be the answer. At the same time, these are questions not unfamiliar to documentary and fiction makers alike.

The opening titles of In Character inform us that Tracy Dong intended to make a documentary about contemporary Chinese actors, but accidentally ended up with a reliving of the times of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. «The charm of documentary» is how Dong explains the unforeseen events that play out during her filming.

Spoiled and clueless

In Character tells the story of a group of actors who are cast to play members of the Red Guards – they have been recruited for a new film by director Ye Jin about his youth during the sixties. H

e intends to make a poetic film rather than a realistic one, and seems to cherish somewhat romantic feelings towards this horrendous period in China’s recent history. He remembers a country with a strong character and great, heroic songs.

«Nobody is allowed to leave at any point.»

Dong and the crew of her documentary capture the casting process. The young actors were raised in what is technically still a communist country, but has little in common with the country from when Ye Jin was growing up. To the latter the candidates seem spoilt, clueless and lacking ideals.

 Trained as Mao Zedong’s Red Guards

The actors are initially somewhat nervous and giggly while practising their choreographies and chanting, but they gradually become more and more dedicated. Together they watch

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