PANG Ho-Cheung

PANG Ho-Cheung
With Hong Kong director PANG Ho-cheung after interviewing him in 2012

Friday, November 18, 2011

ACF 1243: SHOWER at MoMA

Da Ming, Master Liu, and Er Ming
 Shower / Xizhao
Directed by Zhang Yang
With Zhu Xu, Pu Cun Xin, Jiang Wu
China, 1999, 92 minutes
When: Friday, November 18, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
Where: MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street, NYC

 This evening the Museum of Modern Art will again present this wonderful drama with comic touches as part of the series In Focus: Fortissimo Films.

Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin), a businessman in Shenzhen in southern China,  returns north to his home in Beijing because he believes that his widowed father has died. But Master Liu (Zhu Xu) is very much alive, running his traditional bathhouse with his younger son Er Ming (Jiang Wu), who has mental retardation but functions at a relatively high level. Da Ming had misinterpreted a card his brother had sent, a crayon drawing showing him standing next to their father who is laid out flat in bed. When asked about why he drew the picture that way, Er Ming explains that their father is asleep in bed and that he sent the card because he missed his brother.

Da Ming in a high-tech shower prior to his trip to Beijing

Since both his father and brother are well, Da Ming, who clearly has not visited in quite some time, intends to make it a short visit and to fly back to his wife and job. But situations arise that repeatedly delay his departure. In the course of the film, Da Ming, whose life centers on making money in China's changing and booming economy comes to realize the value and importance of family and social traditions, both of which tend to be forgotten in the quest for wealth.

The three lead actors are all excellent in their roles, particularly Wu Jiang. The film also boasts fine  performances in supporting roles. These include two elderly regulars at the bathhouse who engage in cricket fighting, and a husband and wife who have been fighting with each other since an unusual incident two years earlier.

Er Ming listens to 'O Sole Mio

But the most important supporting character is a young man who sings 'O sole mio while standing under the shower. Whenever he does, Er Ming comes over, sits down, and listens to his singing with rapt attention. This connection between them plays an important role in two scenes. One is late in the film at the Neighborhood Culture Party, where the young man freezes with stage fright in front of the audience until Er Ming comes to his aide with a hilarious ploy. The other is the final scene in the film involving Er Ming at the bathhouse.

It would have been easy for this film to wallow in cloying melodrama. But Zhang Yang displays a deft hand directing a fine script about an all too human situation. Rather than being manipulative in typically all-too-obvious ways, the film takes hold of your heart and gently squeezes, genuinely earning every bit of the viewers emotional involvement and response.

ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars. Very highly recommended.

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