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Home  /  Inside China  /  ''Not One Less'' - Zhang Yimou’s happy-ending-film doesn’t survive critics’ cynicism
''Not One Less'' - Zhang Yimou’s happy-ending-film doesn’t survive critics’ cynicism print version
"Not One Less" - yí ge dōu bù néng shǎo 一个都不能少 unfortunately isn't considered as one of Zhang Yimou's master worksby most Western critics, perhaps due to the fact that it ends happily.

After receiving numerous awards for his earlier films, particularly 'Red Sorghum', 'Raise the Red Lantern', 'Ju Dou' and 'To Live', Zhang Yimou was considered a great underground creative director, displaying injustice in a very straightforward manner. Whether it were peasants butchered by the Japanese, a family hardly surviving the chaotic Cultural Revolution or a naïve girl being destined to a life of torture and abuse by rich landlords, the audience have no way to escape the bitter ending in such films. Western critics justifiably appreciated Zhang's courage.

With 'Not One Less' (1999) Zhang Yimou turned to a different style, no more pretty Gong Li as the protagonist, but rather country kids without previous acting experience who, more or less, play themselves and a documentary style footage, showing the quest of a 13 year old substitute teacher (Wei Minzhi 魏敏芝- name of both character and actress) for locating Zhang Huike, a kid who left the village in order to earn money in the big city (the city of Zhangjiakou, Hebei province) and assist his mother.

Cannes Film Festival excluded the film from its competition in 2000, mainly because of criticism claiming that the movie was too pro-governmental. Well, the film ends happily, after a local TV station manager assists teacher Zhang in locating Wei and acknowledges her impressive persistence live on TV. Rural poverty, obsession about money, the despair in the big city and even the high commitment of a juvenile compared to the elder are all themes that are displayed in ‘Not One Less', but the fact that an authority figure and the TV station came to the aid made critics superficially suggest that the movie is no more than a pro-governmental propaganda.

Even Zhang's former masterpieces didn't allow him to remain clean of such criticism. When it comes to topics in anti-democratic China some Western critics won't settle for anything less than blood in Zhang's movies' climax scenes, and couldn't stay at ease when a happy-ending story is presented to the public.

Luckily, the film did succeed in other European Festivals. The reality-TV-style stardom of Wei Minzhi and Zhang Huike continued on from the ending scene of the film, in which they are escorted by a TV production, to their real life, of becoming where they have becomed instant movie stars. No doubt that most country kids could never obtain such fortune and that the importance of education cannot always prevent youngsters from quitting school for labor, but with our 2010 obsession with reality stars, I see no reason not to enjoy the 5 minutes of ecstasy that the small village experiences in the end of ‘Not One Less'.

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