"If you don't agree with me, then take pity on me and vote for me!"
After watching Please Vote for Me, the first thing I did was go online and make sure that this was a true documentary, and not a clever mockumentary. Apparently, everything you see and hear in this film is completely legit, which is a truly head-spinning prospect. It centers on a group of third-grade students in present-day China who undergo a simple social experiment -- a democratic election in their classroom to determine who will become the classroom monitor. Instead of paying attention to this project with half an eye or treating it with easy sarcasm, as you would expect most American students to do, these Chinese students throw themselves into the election body and soul, applying to it what could almost be called life and death stakes. All seemingly without the guidance of teachers, they cook up plots to topple competing candidates, enlist fellow students as political consultants, modify their behavior around potential rivals and supporters in order to make things go their way, and exploit vulnerabilities in their opponents that you can scarcely believe a third-grader would consider.
The election is quickly boiled down to three students: a tough and skinny boy, Luo Lei, with a reputation as a classroom leader and bully; another boy, Cheng Cheng, who is somewhat pudgy and aggressively political in nature, seems to plan out every step he takes, and is constantly gauging his own support, and then there's a third candidate, a shy but ambitious little girl named Xiafei. Each of the children are presumably products of China's one-child policy, and throughout the film we see their parents, not so much doting on them as monitoring their progress as closely as a parole officer might monitor a recently released inmate. Only Xiafei seems to feel the intense pressure she's under, and at one point in the film she breaks down crying in the middle of class and is escorted out. One of her rival candidates will eventually use this outburst against her during a debate, asking aloud how she could possibly be the right person to lead a classroom of students if she's not strong enough to keep her tears bottled up.