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SHOWER

SYNOPSIS:
Young businessman Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin) returns from ultra-modern Shenzhen (where they have automated pay-showers in the street) to his suburban village in Beijing after a cryptic postcard from his retarded brother Er Ming (Jiang Wu), makes him think his elderly father Master Liu (Zhu Xu) has died. But he finds his father in good health and still actively running the public men's bathhouse, where he enjoys caring for customers who have become his family. Da Ming has shunned this life and is preparing to return home, when he gradually discovers that this lifestyle offers more than initially meets the eye.

"Shower v the bath is a simple yet effective metaphor for city v the country, superficial v meaningful and new v traditional in modern China. Zhang Yang fleshes out this symbolism with profound understanding of his subject and a genuine compassion for his characters - and enviable economy. It seems arid ground at first, the mobile-wielding son back from the city to visit his widower father and retarded brother who run a bathhouse, centre of communal life for the men of the small provincial town. But slowly we are drawn into the world Zhang Yang creates with a combination of images, sparse dialogue and plenty of warm humour. As Da Ming, the city boy, is more and more exposed to the values and humanity of his father's environment, he begins to understand their importance. While none of this is rivetingly original per se, the film has a unique tone and an irresistible atmosphere, largely developed through the bathhouse interiors. At one point, though, Yang takes us with a sharp jump cut to the outer edges of northern China - into the recent past. It is only later that we feel the full impact of these scenes. That's not to say the film is at all obtuse or inaccessible; far from it. The characters - not just the central ones - are all splendidly drawn, or in the case of peripheral figures, sketched. The symbolism of the shower is playfully used but also with meaning. In one funny running gag it is showering water that has the power to make a young man sing - although the song is O Sole Mio, a deft touch to implicate Westernisation. Shower in fact provides a great many little joys and a few larger ones to anyone open to the magic of cinema."
Andrew L. Urban

"Laden with charm, humour, poignancy and heart Shower is a simple story about life in an old-world Chinese bath-house, made rich by its unforgettable characters. Have you ever imagined being scrubbed in a car wash? With huge rollers massaging your buttocks, foam gushing all over and jets of water sprinkling everywhere? The opening scenes of Shower take us into a high-tech shower; we are washed thoroughly, untouched by the human hand. From that space-age sophistication we are taken to the Chinese bath-house where not only does the human hand play a large part, but so does the human heart. The human spirit is nurtured and the willing hands of man pummel, massage and console. Water washes the body and the soul, we are told, and here we meet an array of delightful characters that are as potent as the steam. Master Liu, bath-house owner, whose uniform is a towel tucked around his torso, is a doctor, a counsellor, a friend and a protector. He lives for the joy of pleasing his clients, and his beloved retarded son. We enter a world filled with a magical sense of community, a hubub of activity and a reflection of real life. Old men squabble about their competing fighting insects, board games are played habitually, weary bodies rest, men sleep, read, talk and sing. In fact, I guarantee you will never hear the song O Sole Mio again without remembering this as being the song that a shy would-be Pavarotti practices in the steamy echo chamber with an unwilling, captive audience. Perhaps the revelation comes from the fact that this simple story has home truths for us all. The characters are beautifully written and portrayed by a marvellous cast. The core relationship between father and two sons is supremely moving. Moving and thoroughly entertaining, Shower is an unforgettable film about relationships, family, love and dignity. You'll laugh and cry and be engrossed by this wonderful glimpse of humanity."
Louise Keller

"The second film by the independent Chinese director Zhang Yang, this has reportedly been a big success at film festivals everywhere. It's easy to see why: it's a quite touching, skilful comedy-drama that in most ways follows the conventions of mainstream Western cinema. Indeed, the central, nostalgic theme - pitting family ties and quaint local traditions against the hard-nosed modern world - regularly turns up all over the place, especially in films made by national cottage industries that feel threatened by Hollywood. The loyal bathhouse patrons here aren't too different from the moccasin-factory employees in the Australian film Spotswood, or even the family in The Castle. There's a central ambiguity about movies like this: while they celebrate fictional amateurs and eccentrics (such as a timid young guy who sings opera in the shower, and two old men who wage battles with trained crickets) their real-life success is the product of slick professional calculation. Admittedly, not everything about Shower is quite that familiar. Apart from the novel bathhouse setting itself, there are some striking fantasy sequences, and it's nice to see a mentally disabled character who's taken for granted as part of the plot (in contrast to the nervous jokes about 'retards' in There's Something About Mary, which were fueled by a kind of politically correct hysteria). But while the film succeeds on its own terms as decent entertainment, I personally didn't find it very memorable. Again, the comparison with Australian filmmaking is suggestive. Like so many Australian movies - and other non-Hollywood movies aimed at both local and global markets - Shower is working overtime to come off as both worthy and commercial. It doesn't want to frighten away audiences with anything too arty, but it doesn't have the daring of the best pop cinema either."
Jake Wilson

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HEAR Andrew L. Urban & Louise Keller talk about the film in Real Audio.

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES

SHOWER (M)
(Xizhao)
(China)

CAST: Wu Jiang, Pu Cun Xin, Zhu Xu

DIRECTOR: Zhang Yang

PRODUCER: Peter Loehr

SCRIPT: Liu Fen Dou, Zhang Yang, Huo Xin, Diao Yi Nan, Cai Xiang Jun

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jian Zhang

EDITOR: Hongyu Yang

MUSIC: Ye Xiao Gang

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tian Meng

RUNNING TIME: 94 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tristar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 24, 2000

Mandarin with English subtitles.

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