Xiao Hua (Little Flower) Tang Guoqiang, Joan Chen Chong, Liu Xiaoqing Directors: Huang Jianzhong, Zhang Zheng Thirty years after it burst upon a movie scene left parched by the Cultural Revolution, this youth-oriented wartime saga remains a mainland pop culture touchstone. Earlier this year, Jia Zhangke's 24 City featured Joan Chen Chong playing a character nicknamed Xiao Hua ('Little Flower') because of her resemblance to the eponymous title character of the 1979 film (who Chen herself played). More recently, National Day celebrations saw the box office success of another movie with a Xiao Hua connection, Founding of a Republic. The film is anchored by the impersonation of Mao by Tang Guoqiang, an actor who rose to stardom as Xiao Hua's heartthrob. The movie also propelled Liu Xiaoqing to the forefront of mainland celebrity. Cinematically speaking, the picture hasn't aged well. There are too many zoom shots and jump cuts, a cliched usage of black-and-white for flashbacks, and a musical score that is all over the place. But therein lies its charm, from a modern perspective, Xiao Hua is an entertaining relic of its era. The story, taking place largely in 1947 during the civil war, is a soap opera rife with unbelievable coincidences. Young soldier Zhao Yongsheng (Tang) is searching for his teenaged stepsister, Xiao Hua (Chen) and is saved by He Cuigu (Liu), a teen revolutionary who bears an uncanny resemblance to Zhao's deceased mother (also played by Liu). As it turns out, both Xiao Hua and He were adopted as infants in 1930, and both are unsure of their real identities. Despite the nation's huge population and the statistical improbability of reunion, not one but multiple key figures turn out to be related, which also conveniently turns any hint of attraction into chaste sibling love. The dialogue is full of sloganeering, though devoid of Mao worship. There is not an iota of subtlety in the characterisations; people are either totally good (the Communists) or totally evil (the Kuomintang). But despite its ingrained political nature, the narrative is relatively apolitical, concentrating instead on the interrelationships between the three attractive protagonists. Back in 1979, this was almost radically avant garde in comparison to what had come just a few years previously. Xiao Hua, therefore, represents a crucial step in the evolution of mainland cinema as it transitioned into a more sophisticated and creative phase with the emergence of auteurs such as Zhang Yimou in the 1980s. Audiences took to Xiao Hua in a big way, and there are probably few members of that generation who cannot sing along with Li Guyi as she warbles the title tune. At the 1980 Hundred Flowers Awards, Xiao Hua walked off with statuettes for best picture, cinematography, and music, along with best actress for Chen, for whom the role proved a double-edged sword. So indelible was her personification of innocent maidenhood that it took a long time for both fans and officials to reconcile this image with the more adult parts she essayed soon after leaving the mainland in projects as diverse as Tai-Pan (1986), The Last Emperor (1987), and Twin Peaks (1990).