Peacock, by Gu Changwei follows the lives of the five members of the Gao family, concentrating (for the most part) on the lives of the three children: Gao Weihong, Gao Weiguo, and Gao Weiqiang. Through the lives of the children, Gu paints a picture of 1970's China during the Cultural Revolution; a Chinese culture unsympathetic (and even opposed to) individual pride. This dismissal of individuality greatly affects the lives of the children, allowing them to serve as a reflection of the homogeneous, dully colored China of the cultural revolution.
To fully examine the films exploration of personal pride in Communist China, we must first explore the importance of the peacock symbolism. A peacock is an animal associated with feelings of pride and vanity. It is an animal that recognizes its self-importance and condones its own ego. While the peacock may not have the best of reputations (pride is not always seen as a positive attribute), in Gu Changwei's film the audience is shown the great importance of personal pride.
This idea of personal pride is manifested through the three Gao children: Weihong, Weiguo, and Weiqiang. Each of these children (at different points in the film) shows his or her own pride, or tail feathers if you will, much to the chagrin of their parents and society. When Weihong, in a brave fit of individuality, rides through the streets with her blue parachute trailing behind her, she is quickly pulled off her bicycle and scolded. When Weiguo (suffering from a childhood illness that left him with brain disease) tries to give a flower to the woman he loves, he is ridiculed and called a fool. And, young Weiqiang, when caught with a drawing he had done of a naked girl, is denounced by his father and thrown onto the street. These children, though possessing rich and wonderful individual spirits, are only humiliated when their true colors (or peacock tails) are shown.
Through societies intense rejection of these children's "peacock moments," we are shown Changwei's view of 1970's Communist Chinese culture. By showing the children as rare glimpses of color in the otherwise grey landscape, Changwei relates to us the beauty of the children's "pride" in sharp comparison to the monotony of the society. The judgment that Changwei passes on his nation is harsh. He seems to be saying that not only is the culture scorning individual pride but that, because of this, it is scorning the very beauty and color of life.
The Plucked Peacock- Social Antagonism toward Individuality
Gu's film Peacock, following suit with other ��highbrow�� Chinese films, examines the stifling effect of communist conformity on China's sense of individualism in the 20th century. However, Gu takes the extra, and, in my mind, essential step to achieve this goal by focusing entirely on individuals (the three Gao children); completely disregarding the radical political backdrop which helped to dramatize the films of the 5th generation.
The film seeks to display moments of individuality for each of the three children; times at which they stand alone, shining above their peers, but also, it exhibits the indifference or, in some cases, aggression of the Chinese culture toward these moments. The brilliance of Gu's representation of this conflict lies in his working the antagonistic qualities into the very fiber of Chinese society. In Peacock, it's not the heavy-handed state that comes down to squash displays of nonconformity, but rather society appears to be entirely comfortable with the idea of ubiquitous conformity. In removing the faceless, ��big brother�� entity of control found in the 5th generation films, and placing the source of creative suppression within the working class people themselves, Gu is able to disregard the large-scale national events of the 1970's, and concentrate entirely on how the problem of social stagnation was being proliferated, battled, and coped with at a very personal level.
Gao Weihang shows an inherent disregard for social norms, which, in China at the time, was not considered a desirable trait. She detests dull labor, cares little for sexual conservatism, and lives, in general, with a sort of youthful frivolity. In many ways, she can be viewed as the artist of the three children; hindered by the society's lack of interest in creativity. As she plays her accordion at the beginning of the film, the teapot begins whistling. She ignores it at first, but eventually, is forced to lay down her instrument and adhere to the dull functionalism of a life that she despises. Later on, her artistry climaxes while flying her parachute behind her on a bicycle. The color is vibrant, stunning, and overshadows everything around her as she rides through the streets. Inevitably, Weihang's Mother puts a violent end to an act that she, under the influence of social standards at the time, considers disgraceful. Having been dragged down in every last one of her creative pursuits, Weihang remarks that peacocks, in present conditions, aren't meant to spread their tails.
Gao Weiguo, or Fat, is tragic in the sense that he is already unique, by virtue of his brain fever, and desires only to live a simple, respectable life. However, his being a natural outsider, and at the same time, unwilling to accept the humiliation of lifelong dependence on his parents, generates his individualism merely by the fact that he will not tolerate the life laid out before him. In pursuing a life he views as normal, he oversteps his social boundaries, and becomes a unique individual. His moment in the spotlight arrives when he offers a sunflower to a girl he admires: an act entirely normal under typical circumstances, but given his condition, appears bizarre and out of line. Fat's idea to buy a zoo where peacocks will show their tails is, in his mind, entirely within the realm of reason and practicality, while the viewer sees the hopelessness in his optimism toward conventional prosperity.
When at last Gao Weiqiang is brought forward as an individual among the
identical masses, it is against his will. He stands at the forefront in
a vivid blue shirt, in contrast to the white garb of his classmates, denouncing
his brother; wishing only to slide back into the shadows, unnoticed. Although
Weiqiang is intelligent and creative, he never exhibits any desire to
express this to others. In this instance, the suppression of individuality
is built into the very character himself; there is no oppressive external
force threatening him for standing out. When he comes to the peacock,
he doesn't even awaken his stepson to the possibility of the peacock spreading
There is a subtle dialogue throughout the movie, underscored by the final scene, about the perception of beauty in the world. In the final scene, the three Gao siblings walk by the peacock cage with their respective families, disappointed that the peacock is not showing its feathers. Of course, once they have all passed, the great fan is released in full force. They can only find beauty in the peacock when it is putting on a display for them, a sort of shallowness that is reflected in the way others perceive them throughout the movie. Other characters write off all three siblings for various reasons, failing to see their inherent beauty as human beings. The peacock does not seem to be a symbol of pride in this instance, but rather one of misunderstood beauty and unappreciated worth.
Gao Weiguo is certainly the best example of this. Amidst all the name-calling and blaming, all others, including his own siblings, neglect to see just how kind a person he really is. Weiguo does not have a hateful bone in his body, but people choose not to focus on this because it is much easier just to make fun. Gao Weihong is another "peacock." She is a free spirit who does not fit into normal society. As a result, she is let go from several jobs and written off by her father as having no potential. No one appreciates her charm or how happy she makes other people. Gao Weiqiang has a different experience from his two siblings; he starts out loved and appreciated but is later ostracized. His classmates never let him forget that he is brother to Weiguo, and his father banishes him for making a simple drawing. All three stories, but Weiqiang's in particular, show the tendency of people to focus on the negative. The Gao siblings all have great personal qualities that are overlooked because of minor flaws.
The interesting part about "Peacock" is that each character has a kind of redemption in the end. In this way, they are "spreading their feathers." Weiguo marries and has a child with a woman who finally appreciates him for who he is. He also runs a food business and is relatively self-sufficient. Weihong also has a child, and though she is divorced, she is seen with a man in the final scene of the movie. Her charm turns out to be an asset as she uses it to keep her brothers safe at times. Weiqiang has a child, though not his own. He has a wife and is relatively happy. For him, however, it is apparent that his life could have been much grander. Still, he does not seem to be mournful about it, and so neither should the viewer. The fact that they all end up with children is significant. Perhaps Gu Changwei is trying to show the audience that life goes on long after the insults have died down. Maybe he is saying that the world is full of beauty, both intrinsic and extrinsic, and that we have to be careful not to confuse the two.
An element to the film is that unlike Farewell my Concubine and To live, Peacock only deals with one period in time. The interest of the director lies not in a historical narrative but an isolated narrative of a family in the cultural revolution. Something Gu Changwei makes clear from the first scene when Weiqiang begins his narration. Later the story is broken up into three different parts from an "objective" point of view, which appears as an attempt to describe what it meant to grow up in this particular family, not necesarilly in the midst of the cultural revolution. For it is not the revolution directly that damages their pride but the response of the family itself.
The title of the film, Peacock, brings to mind the idea of grace, beauty,
honor, color, and certainly pride. These ideas are summoned, pride being
central, and played off on all through out the film in a peculiar way.
Grace, beauty, and honor, or lack there of, affect pride. The characters
in this film react to their environment, some more than others, to maintain
their pride intact and eventually this is what makes them lose face.
An interesting character in this film is Weiguo, the older brother, he is the butt of the jokes in most of the film. He does not understand anything of the world around him and certainly has no pride. The funny thing is that he is the only one that ends up with a pleasing life. He has moved out of his parents' house, when both his siblings have returned. He runs his own business and ends up getting back at his coworker (even though this is done unconsciously). This does not necesarilly point to a proud since he remains a fool and unaware. It is that lack of pride which makes him succeed, somehow Karma taking its toll.
Probably the film is a social critic [critique] on the time. Pointing to how those who tried to expand their creativity and stand out got pushed down to an unberable state of life, one in which they must conform. On the other hand the fools that just took it as it came got a better deal out of it. In that way the characters in this movie where like featherless peacocks, instead of feeling pride there is a hanging shame.
"Peacock," the Social Containment of Beauty
Gu Changwei presents a critique of Chinese society from the 1970��s to the 1990's in "Peacock." By excluding a straightforward plot, Gu Changwei causes the viewer to look deeper into the details of the characters and their actions. This lack of a clear plot is also part of the realistic quality the director uses to place societal issues under scrutiny. Potent scenes throughout the film portray the characters�� extreme actions due to the social standards of the time. Through his use of forceful scenes, Gu exhibits his interpretation of Chinese society as repressive and intolerant to the individual.
The film follows three siblings whose individual differences cause them to be social outcast. At various points throughout the film, family members act out on each other, reiterating the damage that society can do to the individual. The eldest son, Gao Weiguo, is frequently ridiculed by his peers for being overweight. Additionally, his co-workers take advantage of him by paying him in cigarettes, because he is dim-witted and does not recognize that he is being cheated. Gao Weiguo's individual beauty is in his ability to fall in love. He falls in love with a girl named Zhang Meiling and brings her a giant sunflower. Everyone who views the spectacle laughs at him, showing that his love is intolerable in society. Gao Weiguo eventually marries a disabled woman, which is a more socially acceptable match. Gao Weiguo's family also turns on him. When he brings an umbrella to his younger brother Gao Weiqiang at school, the other students laugh, causing Gao Weiqiang to announce that Wieguo is not his brother, and then proceed to beat him in the mud and stab him with an umbrella. Weiqiang also tries to put rat poison in his elder brother's water while he sleeps. The intensely violent actions of one brother against another bring to light the deep and wicked power present in Chinese society.
Gao Weihong, the daughter, is also a misfit in society. She is useless by social standards, being unable to care for children or wash bottles in a factory, but her creativity and imagination are displayed in several scenes. She imagines herself as a parachutist, and later creates her own parachute and rides through town on a bike with it sailing behind her. In this scene we view her simple pleasure contrasting greatly with society's reaction of annoyance. In her case it is her mother who turns against her, grasping the parachute and ending the happy scene with a frustrating and embarrassing defeat. Her creativity is also shown in her love for the accordion. She plays for an old man while he dances, and the reaction of several onlookers reveals that this is unacceptable by social standards. Later Gao Weihong is publicly and humiliatingly denounced for "seducing" the old man. To survive in society, Weihong must repress her individuality and conform to the ideals of the time.
The younger brother, Gao Weiqiang, appears at first to be the most acceptable of the three siblings. The downward turn in his life occurs in a scene where he seems to be studying. His father asks to look at his books, and as a result discovers a drawing of a naked girl that his son has made. This drawing represents the son's artistic creativity and imagination. Rather than celebrating this, the father reacts harshly, calling the son a rascal, denouncing him to his neighbors (who are representative of society as a whole), and forcing him out of the house. This drastic scene once again re-establishes the extreme (and harmful) effects of social conformity on the individual and the family.
The final scene of the film symbolizes society's repression of creativity and beauty, while hinting that society has a desire to see this beauty. Each sibling, with his or her new family, passes a pair of peacocks in a zoo, noting that the birds are not in the mood to display their tails (which symbolize a show of individual beauty and talent). The bird finally spreads its tail when there are no onlookers to pass judgment on the spectacle. Gu Changwei reveals the message that Chinese society during the 1970s and 1990s did not recognize the inner beauty and creativity of many individuals, even when others were likely to find great pleasure in that beauty.
The movie Peacock takes place in 1970s China when conformity was a do or die ideal. There was very little acceptance of people who were different or appeared to be different. The children in Peacock fit into this group of outcasts because of their family's situation; having one brother who is retarded, and belonging to a lower social cast. The internal struggle for normalcy in the family creates tension between the children. The director Gu Changwei effectively portrays the tension between the family by following the stories of each of the three children. Peacock shows how families can have a lifetime of struggle but eventually survive as individuals. It is an example of how individualism in Chinese culture is frowned upon and will create tension within families.
The story begins with the daughter Gao Weihong. In the eyes of her parents, she can do nothing correctly, and thus is not flourishing in a society that almost forces her to flourish. She fails miserably to do the jobs in which she has absolutely no interest and cannot do what interests her, like parachuting. The only motivation she has is to parachute, and to leave the boundaries her family puts on her. Weihong could not survive as part of her family. By the end of the movie she was surviving because she had left her parents side. While she did return home after her divorce, she could still survive because she had experienced individuality. Throughout the movie Weihong fought to keep a sense of her self. Though an outcaste to her family, she became a stronger person because of it.
Disadvanced because of a brain defect, the oldest brother Gao Weiguo
has to fight off more than just his family. He cannot be anything great
in society because of this defect. People in his town have the inability
to see him as anything but retarded. His parents gave him whatever he
wanted, and thus family jealousy erupted. This is exemplified by the relationship
he has with his younger brother. Not only does Weiqiang try to kill him,
but he publicly denies Weiguo as his older brother. Weiguo is alone with
his disease and has to fight for respect. Only when his business is successful
do his peers begin to respect him. He had to fight for his siblings love,
and his extra individualistic feature did not help him do so.
Peacock artfully shows the struggle of three children with their battle to embrace what individualism they have. The task is difficult in the society they live in because conformity is stressed, and difference is frowned upon. They had a lifetime battle to overcome the boundaries their family and society placed on them. Gu Changwei effectively showed how individualism was almost shut out in traditional Chinese culture.
To understand, then to appreciate
The worst fear in the world is that you have a dream but you've never had a chance to let it come true. After watching the film Peacock, which focuses on an ordinary family with five members: a sister, an elder brother, a younger brother and their parents, and tells us about the three different stories of these three children which happen during their grown-up years, I sighed deeply and felt sympathetic to these poor children, also to that society.
The story happens during the Culture Revolution in China, so all the people at that time all had to conform to the social standards and could not be so ambitious as to realize their dreams. As a result, lots of talent was ignored as people tried to find a so-called good job such as to work in a factory or to sweep in the streets. I still can remember a sentence that the sister in the film said to her fianc��: "I have only one condition if I marry you, that is, you need to find a better job for me because I don't want to be the same kind of woman as the others who work in factories to just wash bottles all day." In order to lead an ideal life, the sister doesn't consider her own happiness and would rather choose to marry a man who is able to help her get a better job. Actually she is dreaming of being a parachutist. Because of her parents�� extreme opposition, she finally gives up her entire dream. Like the bottle of wine she throws in to the river from the bridge, her dream has vanished and it can only just be a dream. The elder brother, who is born with a disease, has some mental problems and is always cheated by the other people. However, he still uses his true heart to treat others. He is so innocent but nobody realizes that. They emphasize his defects and do not appreciate his merits. What a poor world!! Also, the younger brother draws a naked woman perfectly, but his father can't tolerate his talent in art and forces him to leave home immediately. Dreams are luxuries to these poor children. They can't gain any support from their parents who think their children are crazy and unacceptable.
People in that society are all like the peacocks. Their feathers stand for different and colorful stories, including the experiences of happiness and sorrow, love and hatred; they have their merits and something worth appreciating, but no one cares. People are interested with their defects and use them to satisfy their own confidence. Society is a cage and nobody can escape from it. The cage limits people's minds and acts as tools to enlarge their defects and to diminish their merits, thereby destroying the appreciation they might have for their fellow human beings. Through this film, we can see the origins of people's faces, the passing of time, the ordinary life in a specific period in Chinese history, and we feel the repressed emotions that are part of the Chinese psyche and the bedrocks of human interactions. Although that society is but a memory now, it still reminds us of something: to understand, to find and to appreciate others. Then our society can be truly developed.
Peacock, Peacock, Spread Your Tail
Gu Changwei's epic film Peacock is almost like watching a train wreck - the film's content is very disturbing, but it is also intriguing enough for the viewer to continue watching it anyway. Like many other Chinese films, Peacock focuses on both the Chinese family structure as well as communism in 1970s China.
This film focuses on a family of five - a middle-aged couple with three children. The eldest son is obese and mentally challenged, but strangely enough he is the parents�� favorite child. His younger sister and brother are considerably thinner than he is, and their parents often neglect their physical and emotional needs. The couple is extremely protective of their eldest son; perhaps this is because he is the eldest, or perhaps it is because he lacks the mental capacity necessary to protect himself. Because of this, the younger brother and sister eventually grow to hate their elder brother, and they both make several attempts to kill him. Not only does this present a conflict between the traditional Chinese concepts of loyalty to parents versus self-identity and personal independence, but it also presents a metaphor for the constant conflict between communism and capitalism in China.
Loyalty, obedience, duty, and honor have always played an important part in Chinese life. For centuries, the Chinese have built their society upon the family structure. In Chinese culture, children are expected to obey their parents and care for their parents as they grow older. In China, children have a duty to care for their parents unconditionally, and to impugn the honor of one's family is a horrible wrong. The film Peacock heavily reflects the importance of this family value. The youngest brother acts as the narrator, and throughout the film he refers to one vivid memory of each member of his family eating together in the aisle of their home. This behavior begs the viewer to ask the question: should one obey their parents no matter the circumstances? Is it wrong to disobey mentally and emotionally abusive parents?
I believe that the dysfunctional family structure in Peacock is also a reflection of Chinese communism versus western capitalism. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Mao Zedong claimed that the Communist Party of China existed especially for impoverished families of the Chinese working class. However, Peacock was set in the 1970s, and Mao died in 1976. It is very probable that more and more aspects of western capitalism began to creep into China during this time. There is one particular scene in Peacock that stresses this idea. In this scene, the mother of the family sits around the dinner table with her husband and younger children. They are each downcast and in tears. The mother states that they are crying because they have no more money to buy food. Meanwhile, the favorite son sits outside at a private table stuffing bowls upon bowls of food into his mouth, without any signs of care or concern for his family's problems. In this scene, the favorite son symbolizes a capitalist, or capitalism slowly creeping into Chinese culture. He has no respect for his working class family, and he privately hoards all of the food for himself as they starve. The rest of the family remains inside, weak and frail (possibly symbolizing the state of China at the death of Mao), without the strength or will to stop the eldest son from eating them out of house and home.
Overall, Peacock is an interesting film with strong moral and political aspects. However, the film is a bit too long and some scenes might be shocking or perhaps even sickening to the viewer. Nevertheless, I recommend this film to those interested in the Chinese culture simply because of its parallels between the Chinese family structure and Chinese communism.
Peacock's Many Colors
Through his film, Peacock, Gu Changwei illustrates the value of family in a unique way. Instead of showing how wonderful family can be by displaying harmonious connections among siblings and between parents and children, Gu bombards the viewers with scenes from the life of a dysfunctional family, and in so doing, emphasizes the importance of familial love and acceptance. The final scene is especially crucial to the viewer's understanding of the film's primary theme of family, particularly due to Gu's symbolic use of the peacock, which gives the film its name.
The final scene, which depicts the three siblings passing by a peacock's cage at the zoo, is an illustration of each child's characteristic attitude toward their family. These attitudes are what ultimately determine what meaning the children derive from their family (the peacock); sadly, because of their individually flawed mindsets, none of them get to see their family realize its full potential (which the director shows by having all three siblings exit the shot before the bird opens its tail). Each child (or adult, since by the final scene they have all grown up) presents an individual perspective as he or she stops by the peacock's cage.
First to pass by is the daughter and middle child, Gao Weihong. When she sees the peacock, her first reaction is to encourage it to display its feathers. When it does not, she tires of its stubbornness and decides to leave. She genuinely wants to experience its beauty, but she wants it right in that moment, and does not have the patience to wait, or to try to encourage it some more. This is characteristic of Gao Weihong. For example, as a young girl she dreams of becoming a parachutist, but her mother dashes her hopes by taking away the parachute Weihong sews for herself. Instead of discussing her ambition with her mother and trying to make her understand, she wastes no time in trying to acquire a god-father, telling him that she hates her family.
The next character to pass by is Gao Weiguo, the eldest brother. He has
a mental handicap which makes him somewhat slow, but he is always loving
and tries his best to create beauty in his surroundings. In this case,
he uses his wife's red scarf to taunt the peacock and create beauty in
his surroundings, but his efforts are in vain, so he, too, leaves. The
same is true of his role in his family; he always puts forth his best
effort, which is often more than either of his siblings does, but these
efforts are almost always in vain. This pattern eventually leads to Gao
Weiguo's wish to marry in order to leave his family. One obvious example
is when Gao Weiguo, in an attempt to be a helpful sibling, brings his
younger brother a forgotten umbrella. His younger brother is ashamed to
admit that they are relations, and as a result, denies the fact that they
are family at all.
The peacock's behavior in the closing moments of the final scene is perhaps the most tell-tale evidence that Gu Changwei provides the viewer that the bird is actually a symbol of the family. By the end of the scene, after all the siblings have given up their taunting and left, the peacock splays its feathers for only the viewer to see. This sends the blatant message that the peacock (or the family) can be beautiful at times, but only those who are willing to wait out the "bad" times (or the times when the peacock refuses to reveal its many-colored tail) will be rewarded with its beauty (in this case, the colorful tail represents the family's potential beauty).
An Unseen Peacock
Peacock is a movie about relationships and finding yourself. Set in the 1970s just after the Cultural Revolution the Gao family must find each other and themselves. Relationships and placement in society and the idea that a person is the product of their environments are major issues that arise throughout this film.
Relationships between the family members are at times strained and hard. The brothers do not understand each other and as such each hurts the other at some point during the movie. The parents who are not used to and probably don't understand their children must accept that society has changed and the ��old�� ways are no longer valid. Altogether the family must struggle with each other but also with their place in society.
The Gao family is from a poor background. They all live in very small
place and as such are constantly around the people that bother them the
most. Throughout this movie the family drifts far apart but comes back
together as they realize that family is sometimes the only true thing
The significance of the title Peacock is that each family member has their moments of beauty. When a male peacock has his feathers closed he only looks like a large tailed bird but he has momentary moments of beauty when he opens his tail. This represents each of family members having a ��peacock�� moment where they too spread their tails and become beautiful, be it though family devotion, art, music or love. That the peacock shows his feathers in the winter and when no one is looking represents the talents of each of the family members that go unheralded.
Failure of Realism
|Peacock, a film by Gu Changwei, makes a minimal film that strictly follows the aesthetics of realism. There is a realism movement in cinema. It is thought that realism provides an opportunity for the viewer to impartially form his or her own opinion about the movie by being totally realistic. This might be possible on some degree, but movies are not meant to be a perfect depiction of real life. Films are meant to be some form of entertainment or message. The reason that realism films fail, at least in the case of Peacock, is that there are different and more efficient types of films to use to get a message across. Peacock is meant to be an unbiased portrait of Chinese family life and society from the nineteen-seventies to the nineteen-nineties. The realism route can be seen through the lack of character development, dialogue, and storyline. The story, if it can be called that, does not seem to have any logical conclusion, so instead of thinking about the issues that were being put forth during the movie, I found myself trying to find some kind of cohesion or story, and when there was nothing of that sort I was distracted by the lack of it. If the director of this film maybe took the idea of making a relationship with the viewer so that they felt emotionally connected to this film on some level, it would cause people to linger thinking about the movie for longer and deeper. I found that the very static camera and long shots were an good metaphor for seeing this all through a window, but in the end the metaphor ran dry, and again, it detracted from the overall positive impact in ones mind. If a movie is not enjoyed, the issues that it brings forth will often not be contemplated or accepted as easily because if the film is disliked there will be a natural urge of the viewer to disagree with themes in the film, even if they might otherwise agree.|