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y (1996)
The King of Masks

Reviewed by: Waiguoren99
Date: 02/03/2002
Summary: One of my all - time favorites; a wonderful heart - touching drama.


HK rating I (equal to G or PG); mild violence. (Some scenes of a child in great peril may be upsetting to small children.) Drama.

Wang Bian-lian, "King of Face Changing" (Zhu Xu), an elderly street performer in 1930's Sichuan, is befriended by Lang Lian-sao (Zhang Zhigang), an immensely popular opera star/female impersonator. Lang, who is fascinated with what Wang does and wishes to add it to his opera troupe’s performances, is horrified to discover that Wang's art, known as "Changing Faces" for its seemingly magical quick - switching of beautifully painted skin - tight silk masks, can only be taught to a male heir and Wang has no family left. Lang convinces him to adopt an heir so that the art will not be lost when he dies. Wang goes to a slave market and buys an adorable 7-year-old, whom he names Gou-hua, "Doggie" (Zhao Renying) and adopts as his grandson.The two soon love each other deeply and the old man begins to teach the child his craft. But Doggie is not what he seems, and this discovery leads to desperate attempts by the child to regain the old man's love and make everything right.

Whenever I want to introduce someone to Chinese movies, this is the one I recommend. Its original title, BIAN LIAN, means "Changing Faces" and it is a far better title, much more evocative of the action, the characters, and the overall ambience of this film. Director Wu Tianming as head of the Xian Studio in the 80s was mentor to many of China's Fifth Wave directors including Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, and we can see here how valuable his guidance must have been. This wonderful script, in its tone somewhat reminiscent of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, is superbly and faultlessly directed with strength and delicacy. Wu pulls incredibly sensitive and convincing performances from his cast, especially the three principals. All are outstanding, but Zhao's portrayal of the child shows an exceptional ability which makes one wonder what she will be like as she develops further. The cinematography and scene-framing is gorgeous, as misty watercolor scenes alternate with scenes of earthy street life and cloisonne-like opera performances. Some critics have called this film "emotionally manipulative" and so it is -- that is, after all, the purpose of any film, to make you **feel**, and Wu plays on our emotions as if they are an orchestra and he is Toscanini. Fortunately, KING OF MASKS has been widely distributed on video and DVD in the U.S. and is available in many video rental stores. It is one of my all - time favorite films, and absolutely not to be missed! Highest recommendation.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: hiddendragon
Date: 08/19/2001
Summary: Thoughtful...very thoughtful

Being new to HK movies, I didn't know what to expect, but from what I've seen, the movies exceed my expectations from the trailers. This one was no exception. When I watch these movies, I don't feel as if I'm watching a "movie" but rather, a story that's depicted through the film medium.

It's nice to watch a movie that's simple and poignant without telling you that it's all of the above. What a treat.

I think there was an incredible moral in the story, and that it would make a good movie for kids to watch.

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 07/03/2000

This drama about a street entertainer who's getting old quick, wants to pass on his skill of SUPER FAST MASK CHANGING (which when you see will be reall amazed). He looks for a boy to pass on his skill too and goes through this market where people sell there children. He is fooled into buying a GIRL and is REALLY disappointed after caring for the child and loving it so much!! He throws her away but she refuses to leave!! Later on, this girl child abducts this small boy and brings this to her foster dad. He is real happy until the police turn up and charge him for abduction!! The police also charge him for every other missing childrens CASE and will be sentenced to death soon.............

The movie looks like it was made in China (and maybe it was) and like most China movies it's REAL depressing to watch yet the ending is........better not spoil it!! I just give you a score on this one because i just hate wacthing depressing movies though this was quite good!!