Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: Pu Cun Xin, Zhu Xu, Jiang Wu, Zeng He
Director: Zhang Yang
Do you prefer to take a long luxurious bath or catch a quick shower in the morning? It’s a very important question in Zhang Yang’s film SHOWER and symbolic of the choice between tradition or progress in modern China. It might be an awkward concept for the British, but in China, Japan, Russia and Turkey stripping off in a communal bathhouse is a social glue. Sitting naked in warm water up to your ears is the closest thing we have to recreating our lovely, irresponsible time in the womb. In the Far East, it’s a place to recharge your batteries and relax, do a bit of business, chew the cud, have a massage or race your prize crickets. When everyone’s stripped of their worldly possessions it’s also a great equaliser.
Mr Liu runs a communal bath-house in a crumbling but beautiful old district of Beijing. He’s a solid member of the community, confidante to the men who visit his establishment and father to two sons – the sombre but ambitious Da Ming and Erming, a child for life because of his mental disability. Da Ming has returned from the glitzy world of opportunity that is Shenzhen in the new economic zone north of Hong Kong. He has a wife and a glittering future ahead of him but he is torn between ambition and the duty to his family. This is the battle between old and new in China.
The symbol of Bath vs Shower is a seemingly unpromising one, but it is made all the more interesting because of Erming and his disability. Erming needs routine and familiarity and his father has dedicated his life to caring and loving him. Mr Liu has come to Beijing from the deserts of North West China where water is a commodity and a young man would dream about nothing but clear, blue lakes. To have spent his life in a bathhouse with warm, safe water providing a secure and happy environment for his son is enough for Mr Liu.
But the times they are a changing. And if China is going to progress there must be change.
SHOWER is a touching, sensitive film. RAIN MAN in a modern Chinese context. The symbols are unashamedly overt but the issues are ones which face families the world over. Nobody can ever love a child like a parent, and what happens to them when you are gone must be an enduring worry.