Shower

"Extraordinary"

Shower Review


China's a funny place today. Old men in Mao suits perform morning stretches in the shadow of dot-com billboards. Cell-phone toting kids cruise on beat-up bikes. And the crowd at McDonald's is notably more enthusiastic than the one protesting at the American embassy around the corner.

But what's the price of progress? In Shower, Zhang Yang looks at the widening chasm between old-school China and its Gen-Y offspring, while playing a warm eastern riff on the return home of the prodigal son.

Businessman Da Ming represents the new generation; he's a wealthy, weary frequent flier in a rumpled coat and tie. His father, Master Liu, is old China; he happily runs a bathhouse in a fading Beijing neighborhood where he lives with Da Ming's mentally handicapped younger brother Er Ming.

Da Ming, who lives in a prosperous area of southern China, makes a reluctant trip to Beijing under the mistaken impression that his father is dead, only to find him alive and well. He'd love to turn right around and head home, but agrees to spend a few days in his old family home--which is nothing more than a room behind the deteriorating bathhouse.

From the start Da Ming fidgets with his cell phone, cringes at the antiquated lifestyle of his father and brother, and itches to leave. Why waste time in a bathhouse when you can take a five-minute shower, after all? But after a few days in Beijing he begins to see the bathhouse for what it is: A gathering place for the neighborhood men, a refuge from work and wives and home life. The idiosyncratic bathhouse customers are an extended family, and provide comic relief to the story. Retired cronies pit fighting crickets against one another in battles that test friendships. A young schemer hides when his get-rich-quick scheme fails and the loan sharks are threatening. A meek husband escapes from his domineering wife.

Sadly, the bathhouse is slated for demolition along with the rest of the neighborhood since space is needed for anonymous hi-rise apartment complexes. Da Ming sees Master Liu's health start to fail as the neighborhood's days tick away; Liu's life is inextricably intertwined with the fate of the neighborhood. It's the end of an era, and modernity, as we've seen over and over, doesn't always equal progress (imagine what a billion new cars and refrigerators and showers are going to do to China's already rotten environment).

So this is Cinema 101. So the symbolism is as old as storytelling. The bathhouse is an oasis in the midst of change, with water that renews life and purifies. The wayward son returns home to redeem himself. And the retarded brother is the only one who can see clearly what the bathhouse means to the family and community. But Yang keeps the story real, the actors (veterans of mainstream and experimental Chinese theater) turn in restrained and moving performances, and in a summer of tired action retreads, this heart-bendingly beautiful film is a cool drink of grown-up pleasure.

Aka Xizhao, Xizao.



Shower

Facts and Figures

Run time: 92 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 6th April 2000

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classic

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as April, Trish Doolan as Alex, as Paulie, Denise Miller as Vicki, Joe Tabbanella as Jake, as August, Honey Labrador as Sasha, as Sophie, as Franny, Samantha Lemole as Rita, as Kelly, Euan K. MacDonald as Fergus, Delaina Mitchell as Spring Dawn, Victoria Reiniger as Mary Beth, Jane Booke as Devin

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