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洗澡 (1999)

Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 06/24/2007
Summary: Heaven Showers Us With Blessings

In one of the fastest growing areas of the world, the burgeoning metropolis Beijing (like many places in the world), many past facets of life are being replaced to make way for “modern” conveniences. In the movie Shower, from mainland China’s Xian Film Studio directed by Yang Zhang (Spicy Love Soup), this dichotomy of the new and the old is symbolized by the shower and the bath. The shower is a fast convenience that takes water for granted while the bath and especially the bathhouse is a tranquil way of life. Master Liu (Zhu Xu also in King of Masks) is owner of such an establishment where you can bathe, get a massage, get treatments like cupping, get a manicure, play Xiangqi (Chinese Chess), or challenge local patrons to cricket fighting. It is analogous to a men’s club (or Cheers) where regulars come to relax as well as socialize (and everybody knows your name as well as your problems). Liu lives with his mentally slow son Er Ming (wonderfully played by Jiang Wu) who helps out with the daily chores.

Shower starts off with an idea by bathhouse denizen He Zheng of an automated shower (reminds me of the automated restrooms in large cities like San Francisco or the suicide booths in Futurama) where you pay your money and get put through an automatic human wash that sprays soap, water and scrubs you to a healthy clean. It is a clever idea by a slacker whose entrepreneurial ideas tend to fizzle and who still needs to fix the neon sign for the bathhouse. It is entirely appropriate that he is telling this idea while relaxing in the caldarium.

The drama begins when Da Ming (Pu Cunxin), son of Liu, comes to visit from Shenzhen after an extended absence. He came after misinterpreting a postcard that Er Ming sent that seemed to show the death of his father. While Liu was happy to see him he then realized the only reason his son came to visit because he thought he was dead. Da Ming decides to stay for a few days though his faster pace existence is evident by the fact he only takes showers now and not baths. Things have changes so much between them at one point that Liu wishes his son had not even shown up (though at this point Da Ming had lost his younger brother while buying a ticket home).

The distant relationship between Liu and Da Ming is counterbalanced between the beautifully simple and close relationship between Er Ming and Liu. Liu takes care of him but allows Er Ming to help out with the business and even exercises with him. It is a touching kinship that seems realistic and not forced. Da Ming is awed by this bond. He has spent so much time away that he is an estranged “prodigal son.”

The biggest strength of this film is it’s characterization. There are many wonderful supporting roles in this film. There is the impotent Zhang and his shrewish wife. There are the bickering cricket trainers and fighters (including Mr. Wu who has possibly used illegal substances to beef up his cricket.) There is Miao Zhuang who loves to sing Eduardo Di Capua and Giovanni Capurro’s O Sole Mio in the shower. And He Zheng the daydreamer who owes lots of money. I am quite impressed by how well all of their lives are interconnected throughout many of the subplots.

Small spoiler in this paragraph: I do no have much to complain about this film (other than the multitude of men’s buttocks shown). It would seem that the impending doom of the district, including the bathhouse, to be replaced by a shopping mall would seem a contrite stereotypical plot device but for Beijing and the surrounding areas it is really happening. I did think one scene involving Er Ming and a hospital felt forced and tried to be too emotionally manipulative, but that was probably the only moment that I felt was mediocre..

The central theme to this movie is water. There is an emotional flashback scene where Liu talks about Er Ming’s mother from the northern province and how much families had to sacrifice just to get enough water for the daughter to take a bath before her wedding day. Water is a purifying force. When Mr. Zhang had problems with impotence it was solved with a special potion and a bath. When Miao Zhuang could not sing in front of the neighborhood, water was used to cure this disorder. Water is also a destructive force. The only death took place in water. Er Ming used a water hose to disrupt a moving party. It is also a healing force: Liu and Da Ming made peace during a storm. In the film water is analogous to life. The wooden plaque at the end of the film sums up the movie with the aqueous statement: “Heaven Shower’s Us With Blessings”.

Shower is one of my favorite mainland Chinese films. It is bittersweet, poignant, funny yet emotional complex movie I have watched several times. There is no sugary-sweet ending so it feels more natural. What stays with me though is the memory of the characters and how they remind me of characters that frequent every archaic establishment. Personal note: I may be biased for this film in certain aspects because I used to manage an arcade that was eventually torn down to make way for a larger parking lot. The amount of diverse characters there, like in Shower, was immense.

DVD Notes: the only current R1 copy in existence is a Sony Pictures Classics (Columbia Tri-star) version. It is a nice looking copy (anamorphic) that has bare-bones extras featuring only talent files and trailers. I am not sure how good the subtitles are though. They have the habit of writing people’s names as one word (Da Ming becomes Daming) which is very annoying. Here is another film that deserves a better release with more extras and possibly a commentary.

Reviewer Score: 9