Director Zhang Yimou, of Raise The Red Lantern fame, was awarded the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for his latest film, and Not One Less is appropriately impressive. Known as the "peasant director," Zhang casts his film with people from everyday China, not film stars. This is reflected in the fresh and genuine qualities of the performances. Shi Xiangsheng wrote the original story after interviewing a teacher in outback Western China, and based the screenplay on true events.Teacher Gao has taken a month's leave from school to look after his sick mother. The school, despite an idyllic setting, is suffering from shaky desks and a major chalk shortage. The Mayor of the village, an obstinate patriarch, can't find anyone to replace Gao, so he hires the thirteen year old Wei to teach the class of around forty recalcitrant young brats. Despite her youth and appearance, Wei turns out to be one tough chick of a teacher, locking the kids in the room until they copy their lessons, while she relaxes and sunbathes outside.
But when bad boy student Zhang Huike runs away to the city to find work to support his single mother with a big debt, Wei's strength of character becomes evident. When the film moves to the city there are some beautiful scenes where the kids work at a local brick factory run by a bullheaded misanthrope. In the city we see colourful, evocative images of street sweeping, bustling markets and hot pork buns as dawn breaks.
Not One Less uses both humour and pathos to show a slice of life in China. Particularly amusing are the sequences that come up when Wei loses and then fails to locate her friend, and has to go on Chinese national TV as part of a "real life" documentary in an attempt to find them.From one of the masters of modern cinema comes another charming, funny and incisive film. ---Barbara Karpinski