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NOT ONE LESS

SYNOPSIS:
When Teacher Gao of the Shuiquan Primary School is called away for a month he is replaced by substitute Wei Minzhi (Wei Minzhi), who, at 13 years of age, is not much older than most of her pupils. Numbers at the rural school have dropped from 40 to 28 in recent months and Wei Minzhi is offered an extra 10 yuan pay provided no further students leave. When bright but naughty 10 year old Zhang Huike (Zhang Huike), fails to appear in class, Wei Minzhi learns he has been forced by his debt-ridden family to seek work in the city. With only a faint idea where he might be and very little money, Wei Minzhi sets off to the city alone, determined to find Zhang Huike and bring him back to the classroom.

"'What can you do?' asks the disapproving veteran teacher when confronted by his 13 year old replacement. 'I can sing' is her nervous reply before forgetting most of the words in her demonstration song. Without a single professional actor in sight, Chinese master director Zhang Yimou turns this simple story into beautiful and heartwarming entertainment. The "G" classification is usually the mark of death for any non-children's film but not here as the fiesty Wei Minzhi, totally out of her depth with a class full of little rascals, picks up the chalk and does whatever it takes to keep the numbers together and earn her bonus. Yimou pitches his film at a perfect level which finds this plucky girl old enough to know a little about the adult world but without the experience to understand how it really works - at first. Her journey to the big smoke is funny and heartbreaking as she waits patiently outside the local TV station hoping to find someone, anyone who'll help her find the elusive Zhang Huike. With a cast of non-actors playing themselves to perfection, Not One Less invokes the spirit of Italian Neo-Realism and is reminiscent of recent Iranian films such as The White Balloon, which also deal with the world as seen through children's eyes. It packs a huge emotional punch from the most basic of materials. Zhanhg Yimou may be guilty of attempting to extract a little too much mileage out of Wei's trudge through the city but that's about the only note which is less than perfect in the kind of movie they really don't make any more - but you're glad a talent like Zhang Yimou somehow still can."
Richard Kuipers

"A comeback of sorts for Chinese director Zhang Yimou, this piece of modern neo-realism is far from the sumptuous romance of Shanghai Triad, his last film to be released here five years ago. A lot of mordant social commentary is implied in the contrast between modern bureaucracy and the incredible poverty of village life (every piece of chalk is valuable, while the schoolhouse itself looks prehistoric) and a debt to the Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami is visible in many ways, from the stubbornness of the young heroine to the attention to lived-in landscapes and the preference for letting scenes play out in quasi-real-time. These scenes tend to concentrate on prolonged negotiations of positions and responsibilities (‘Why should I help you?’ ‘When am I getting paid?’) by characters mainly involved with the practical problems of surviving from day to day. The ‘typecasting’ of amateur actors makes sense here, since there’s not much space to be an individual when you’re on the verge of destitution. Everyone (teachers, secretaries, the village mayor) is required to perform tasks and give orders according to his or her role; the comedy is in the way the system is constantly breaking down, yet everyone still has faith in its magic efficacy. (‘You must be able to do something, you’re the teacher,’ a girl complains to Wei when her classmates are playing up.) This emphasis on social position and perceived authority reaches a climax with an ending that seemingly credits the mass media with a godlike ability to override all issues and problems. I’m still not sure how to take this. The compassionate public response to Wei’s plight mirrors a similar expected response from the real-life audience in the arthouse theatre; there’s clearly some irony intended, but at whose expense?"
Jake Wilson

"Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum, Raise The Red Lantern) has given us a beautiful study of raw human emotion and the heartbreaking poverty of China through the eyes of children. He proves, once again, that the simple stories are so often the best. And he does so with a cast full of untrained actors, a wonderful achievement which gives the film a rarely seen realistic edge. The best performances come from the two featured children, Wei Minzhi as the thirteen year old 'teacher', and Zhang Huike as the cheeky ten year old boy sent to the city to work. Wei Minzhi's performance is central to the emotion of the film, and she plays her character's journey beautifully. Initially we see her fear, her boredom, as unhappy awareness of her lot in life, and a glimpse of determination. As the film progresses in what is initially a slow but engaging pace, we see her determination rise, her understanding of her situation grow, and her compassion blossom. It is a breathtaking performance. Zhang Yimou shows us China as it is: the poverty, the isolation in an overcrowded land, the encroaching Western influence, the people, and the system. The system is portrayed both in the overall picture and in small but revealing vignettes such as when the eight year old girl is identified for the elite athletes program and unquestioningly taken away. Not One Less is a deserving winner of this year's Golden Lion for Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival."
Lee Gough

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

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ZHANG YIMOU

NOT ONE LESS (G)

(China)

CAST: Wei Minzhi, Zhang Huike, Tian Zhenda, Gao Enman, Sun Zhimei

DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou

PRODUCER: Zhao Yu

SCRIPT: Shi Xiangsheng

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hou Yong

EDITOR: Zhai Ru

MUSIC: San Bao

RUNNING TIME: 106 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: February 17, 2000







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