Witty and charming but watch out for the sting!
Christopher Fung | honolulu | 05/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a wonderfully intelligent and heart-warming work. I thoroughly thoroughly recommend it. Set in a beautifully-evoked Sichuan province (watch for guest appearances by the Giant Buddha of Emei Shan) in China during the 1930s, Wu Tianming?s beautifully delineated movie tells the story of Wang Bianlian, played by the veteran Xu Zhu, an aging street performer who buys a young boy, Gou-er (translated as ?Doggie? in the subtitles). Gou-er (luminously portrayed by an absolutely fabulous Zhou Renying) is to be Old Wang's heir as the old man seeks to pass on his family secrets as a master of ?changing face? theater. This situation needs a little explaining for modern western audiences. Many times in Chinese history there were awful famines or economic depressions where families faced starvation and destitution. This was particularly true in the late Republican period when civil war added yet another level of problems for ordinary Chinese people. In these circumstances, desperate families sometimes resorted to selling some or all of their children to wealthy families. Often these children would be brought up as virtual slaves, especially if they were girls.Gou-er is a pet name. Chinese children were often given these names instead of real ones until they were old enough to be fairly assured of living to be adults. This practice stemmed from the folk belief that the lurking demons that populated the Chinese landscape (particularly in natural areas such as rivers, woods and mountains) would be fooled into thinking that the child was worthless if their family referred to them as ?Stinky? or ?Idiot? ?or ?Little Dog?, and so would not attempt to steal the child or kill it.Old Wang needs a boy because according to Confucian tradition, he cannot pass the knowledge on to a girl since daughters or grand daughters were not considered to be permanent members of one?s family in traditional Chinese society. Women were brought up to be married out to other families. The men were the ones who stayed within the family and maintained the family resources. Usually this meant land for peasants, but for the rich it meant wealth and for performers like Old Wang, it meant the secrets of the trade. For this reason, I must take issue with Laura Mirsky's editorial review which infers that the famous cross-dressing opera star Luo Sulan (ably played by Zhang Zhigang) was unsuitable as an heir because he portrayed women on stage. While it is true that Chinese society is conventionally very homophobic, and Luo Sulan is certainly portrayed as a rather effeminate young man, the larger obstacle (and this is important since it is another example of Confucian tradition at work) was that Luo was not a member of Old Wang?s family. ?Changing face? was a family tradition and could not be handed on to anyone who was an outsider. Luo?s status as a man who plays women on stage would not have been an issue in and of itself since this was the norm in Chinese opera of the time. As in Shakespearean England, women were not allowed to perform as actors so all the female roles were played by men (see also the wonderful Chen Kaige movie ?Farewell My Concubine?).This movie deals with issues of family, loyalty, love and tradition. It is an overt critique of traditional Chinese society but is also a pointed (though gentle) indictment of the resurgence of some of these Confucian values in modern China following the economic boom of the eighties and nineties..."
Excellent movie - highly recommend
kravdraa | Tucson, AZ USA | 12/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've seen the King of Masks several times both in the Theatre and on DVD. After seeing it in the theatre, I called up several friends and talked them into watching it with me a 2nd time. Everyone thought it was a great movie. Of the many excellent foreign DVDs in my collection, it is the one I'm most likely to loan out to friends who may not be too into foreign films or subtitles -- everyone has like it so far. If you've watched it, you also know that this is a great film to encourage friends to *start* watching more independent / foreign films.The general storyline is well described in the other posted reviews. The King of Masks combines an excellent storyline with excellent characters, scenes, and cinematography. In my opinion this movie is suitable for all ages.Subtitles are clear and easy to read. There are many genuinely touching scenes in the film that will tug at your emotions. All of the lead acting is excellent.If I had to (this would be hard) recommend only one "foreign" film to someone out of all the films I've seen so far from various countries, this would probably be it.A person comes away from this film experiencing all of the good things a foreign film can present: dialect, characters, scenes, culture, unique plot. A lot of excellent movies only hit on 3 or 4 of these; this one hits on all cylinders.This is one not only for your library, but to loan your friends, including the ones that usually only watch Hollywood box office hits."
A Visual Treat
Charles E. Little | Honolulu, Hawaii | 04/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The King of Masks" is one of the best films I've seen in years, and I've seen quite a few. I love the fact that the Chinese have discovered what American filmmakers seem to have forgotten: that a good story, well acted and superbly shot, beats the heck out of high-tech special effects any day! This film is magical in its ability to transport you back to 1930's China and make you feel every little joy, every heartache, and the redemption of the human spirit in exquisite detail -- and it does it without blowing anyone or anything up! The actors deliver impassioned performances of a masterful script -- the director keeps the visuals captivating, and in the end, we are better people for having seen and loved this film. My only complaint -- why the Pan and Scan format! Please, please tell me we'll eventually be treated to the widescreen version of this modern masterpiece!"
The King of Masks is Anthropology 101
Miss Opine | California | 03/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What is it about us that makes us human? Please have this question in mind when you watch this film. This is a classic. It is literature on film. It has all of the dynamics of humanness that all of us live, understand or wish wasn't true. I had so many emotions flow through me while watching this film. It is so compelling. What I find even more interesting are the comments from viewers. They seem to feel the dynamics of this story, of the cultural dimensions and turnings, are wholly Chinese. It's as if they are asleep. It's as if they cannot recognize themselves in the film, if not exactly, certainly the possibilities are real. Therefore, this is why I recommend this film to parents and their children. It is a family film. But the lesson will be totally lost if American parents watch this film with their children and tell them, "See. This is how things were (or are) in China and some other places in the Third World." As if they don't happen and can't happen right here in America. This film is a chance to teach our children what all of the discipline and study and engagement in the better self is all about but it is also a wonderful opportunity for some parents to teach supremacy of the American Dream. And I can't emphasis "Dream" enough. Thank you for your attention."