The family that bathes together. Dad runs an old-style Beijing bathhouse with his two sons (l to r: Pu, Zhu, Jiang).
dir Zhang Yang|
scr Liu Fen Dou, Zhang Yang, Huo Xin, Diao Yi Nan, Cai Xiang Jun
with Zhu Xu, Pu Cun Xin, Jiang Wu, He Zhang, Zhang Jin Hao, Li Ding, Feng Shun
release US 7.Jul.00; UK 31.Mar.01
awards Best Film (San Sebastian 99, Thessaloniki 99); Audience Award (San Sebastian 99, Thessaloniki 99, Rotterdam 00, Seattle 00); International Critics Prize (Toronto 99); Best Director (Seattle 00)
The makers of this sweet Chinese film have obviously studied the Miramax library--it's a touching, funny, charming story that tugs effortlessly at the heartstrings. In the midst of a successful career, Daming (Pu) comes home to Beijing to check up on his ageing father (Zhu) and mentally simple brother (Jiang), who run an ancient community-style bathhouse. Over the course of his visit, Daming must confront his prejudice against the antiquated bathing (he now prefers showers, of course!), the quaint culture of olde worlde China and, of course, the close relationship between his brother and father.|
There are just enough real issues here to keep our hearts engaged. And the quirky characters that inhabit this world keep us grinning, often with self-recognition. But it's all rather superficial, really, never getting under the skin to tackle complex family relationships, cultural change, advancing technology, community support and so on. All of these are nicely touched upon without saying much at all. And when you look closely, you can see how carefully written and structured the film really is--contrived, concocted and yet still completely winning. At least two of the central three performances are clever and interesting (Jiang's take on the mentally disabled is just a bit simplistic), and director Zhang fills the film with some very nice touches, although the gorgeous flashbacks to an even more history-locked part of China don't work very well. This is a part of world culture we rarely get so see with such intimate closeness; that and the film's ability to warm the cockles make it worth seeing ... if you don't expect too much.