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by sophie mount | february, 2001


A young man returns home after an absence of many years, believing that his father has died. Da Ming finds that his father is very much alive, but he is unable to return home immediately, so stays with his father and retarded brother. He realises that he must face up to his family responsibilities and has to learn how to run the bathhouse and look after his brother when his father actually becomes ill.

Instructions: go to booth in city centre, insert credit card, select wash level, enter cubicle, remove clothes, stand on circle, raise arms when necessary. A futuristic shower complete with rotating brushes, à la car-wash, and blow dry finish — just what you need after a hard day’s work in the steaming city centre. With thumping music to accompany, so Shower begins. This is the ultra modern way of dealing with necessary functions when you quite simply don’t have the time.

Cut to one long lost brother (Pu Cun Xin) returning to his home village in Beijing, where his father and brother run an old, dilapidated community bathhouse. The old versus the new — a fully functional and quick way to get clean and back to work, or an entire and leisurely day spent in a bathhouse. One for the business and city person, and the other for the home and village person.

However run down and under threat of being torn down the Beijing bathhouse is, it is an essential part of the community, not only because it is one of the few places to wash, but also because it is steeped in tradition. The clientele, mostly older men or men with few things to do, come to the bathhouse for their bath, scrub, massage, remedial sessions and showers. They then stay on to talk with their friends, have cricket fights, quarrels, sing, catch up on gossip and get away from daily responsibilities.

Master Liu (Zhu Xu) is aided by his younger son (Jiang Wu) who delights in the daily routines. On many occasions, people come to Master Liu for advice on marital, monetary and medical problems. When Master Liu falls ill, his older son has to assume responsibility for the bathhouse and also for his brother, who is reluctant to move from the security of routine and friendly faces at the bathhouse.

Shower is a funny, touching and really quite heart warming. It evokes a community which is under pressure from the modern world and which has many other problems besides. But this particular community has ways of dealing with its problems as and when necessary and certainly not before. The characters are really endearing, especially Zhu Xu as Master Liu; and Jiang Wu is brilliant as Er Ming the younger and retarded son.

This is the sort of film people should opt to see, rather than opting for the safe and predictable plot of some mind-numbing popcorn-muncher, because whilst few major things happen, there is such honesty and simplicity in the narrative. It is a real relief not to have to expect twists turns and mass murders. You can go along and immerse yourself in a bit of calm and you don’t need to worry about which character ‘dunnit’. Shower is released in selected cinemas in the UK on 30 March, if you can find one of them, see it.

Dir: Zhang Yang
Producer(s): Peter Loher
DoP: Zhang Jian
Principal Cast: Zhu Xu, Pu Cun Xin, Jiang Wu
Dist: Momentum Pictures
Country: China
Year: 1999
Length: 92 mins

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