Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Shower

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Chinese director Zhang Yang's Shower has a nifty opening scene showing a man being cleaned by a fully automated sci-fi contraption. He’s standing as impassive as a Chevy in a car wash as he's wetted, soaped, rinsed and dried. Assuming this isn't a fantasy sequence, one has to be impressed by how far ahead of us the Chinese are in shower technology, being tended by all that cool-looking machinery, while we're still dragging our primitive loofahs over our bodies like peasants.

But it soon becomes apparent that this prologue is meant to represent the alienating effect of progress as the solitary man is contrasted with the cozy community of the public bathhouse in Beijing where most of the film takes place. The male-only bathhouse is overseen by Master Liu (Zhu Xu), who has the crusty dignity of an upholder of tradition against encroaching modernity, and who is assisted by his retarded son, Er Ming (Jiang Wu). Master Liu's other son, Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin), who has moved to Shenzhen and become a modern, cell phone-carrying businessman, rushes back to the family enclave when he receives a postcard from the childlike Er Ming which gives him the mistaken impression that dad has died.

It's a classic setup and we know that the initially disdainful Da Ming is going to be slowly seduced by the rustic charms of the bathhouse and its sweaty clientele, which includes two old codgers who like to stage cricket fights between their daily soaks, a chronic grumbler who comes to the baths to escape his wife, and a Pavarotti wannabe who likes to warble a grandly off-key "O Sole Mio," but can only do so under a showerhead. But just as the reconciliation between Da Ming and his father is starting to solidify, news comes that the bathhouse is going to be torn down to make room for a shopping mall, which is apparently a universal symbol of the crassly commercial.

Shower is a resolutely old-fashioned film and, despite a burnish of novelty bestowed by its exotic locale, a little too familiar, a little too sentimental and, finally, a little too cute.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday-Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

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More by Richard C. Walls

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