King of Masks

The King of Masks is an elderly Chinese street performer with no family. In his show, he switches the masks he wears so quickly that it appears to be magic to his audience. To add some context, many people know that boys are the preferred children in China. Today, the view is changing, but earlier in the century, it was much worse. Parents would go as far as selling their little girls away so that they could try to have a boy.

When a famous actor approaches the King of Masks, he is very excited. The actor wants the King to join his acting troupe, on the condition that the King teaches him the secrets of switching masks. The King refuses, saying that he can only teach his art to an heir. This encounter troubles the King, since he has no heir. His only possessions are a small barge and a monkey that performs with him. The King of Masks begins to search for a baby boy to buy, but all he finds are parents selling girls. Finally, he finds a small boy, and buys him. He is happier now, with a 'son' and someone he can teach his art to. When he finds out the boy is actually a little girl, he is outraged. He doesn't want a girl. A girl is worthless. This is evident in his condescending name for her, "Doggie."

Director Wu Tianming (To Live) and actors Zhu Xu and Zhou Ren-Ying craft a movie whose main motive seems to be to make you cry at the end. After about twenty minutes of the movie, you know the entire story. Lonely old man finds a boy. Old man loves boy. Boy turns out to be a girl. Old man hates girl. Old man begins to change. Something happens, and old man realizes he loves girl. Happy ending. Though very predictable, the story manages to keep you interested, though not greatly. As with many of the Chinese period movies, the set design is beautiful. The King of Masks exists in a stark world. The people he performs for are just a little richer than he is. Everything around him is run down. This contrasts with the elegance and beauty of the upper class, which the King is fortunate enough to experience a couple times in the film. Their houses are large, opulent, surrounded by coi ponds and full of paintings and statues. Wu manages to infuse a huge amount of emotion into this quiet movie, letting you enjoy the ending, though you can see it coming a mile away.

Mongoose rates it: Not bad
1 hour, 41 minutes, Mandarin with English subtitles, Not rated, fine for almost everyone.

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