Projections - Movie Reviews

Not One Less

Not One Less is perhaps Zahng Imou's most simple and straightforward film to date, having made poignant films with the talented Gong Li like the acclaimed Raise The Red Lantern and The Story of Qui J.  Here, instead of the professional actress Li, Imou has recruited a cast of non thespians and just about every part is occupied by a person who has that role in his or her life.  So, his G rated film often has an intimate, documentary style to it.  Imou's familial related film does better by the characters who express themselves in ways that would appeal more to native audiences than Western ones as the story is tenuous, although its young players are fairly engaging.

This glossy tale of a 13-year-old substitute teacher (Wei Minzhi), a girl from a meek countryside village, has the difficult task of keeping over two dozen kids in line when Teacher Gao has to leave the Shuiquan Primary School to care for his ill mother.

Wei, another kind of "sent-down" girl is never treated with any respect throughout almost all of Not One Less.  She is given precise instructions by the somewhat brittle Gao who is frugal about the use of chalk and compares it to a donkey.  Gao and Mayor Tian, also somewhat unfeeling, are at odds with the early teen's inability to handle a large group of kids, reduced by over 10 due to gradual drop-out.  And Gao and the Mayor promise her an extra 10 yuan if not one less than the current number are in her classroom.  Yet, they won't give her anything before Gao leaves and the Mayor says he's too busy to help.  One of the departing students was snagged by Mr. Zhang's sports instructor who saw great athletic ability in the youngster.

For a while, Not One Less meanders with Minzhi copying lessons that the kids voice their incomprehension about, and she has to stand guard to keep them from fleeing home.  Things perk up when the class troublemaker (Zhang Huike) disappears to the city for a homebound mother, the teacher begins to instruct and the class starts to participate in math, and some un-assigned labor at a nearby brick factory gets her started on her way to Jiangjiakou, where Zhang Huike isn't mischievous anymore, laboring hard for a preoccupied restaurant owner, Bai Mei.

Imou doesn't make the motivation for Wei Minzhi's struggle to locate Zhang Huike that clear, through the students' reverence for Gao was read from a diary by Huike.  Therefore, her journey has a dogged gallantry to it that could lift her to Gao's place in their hearts.  Still, it's rather cumbersome, as Wei encounters many obstacles from the bus station clerk to a TV station receptionist, with no ID translating her into destitution.

Finally, the pious teen is rewarded by a kind TV station manager, and camera diffidence leads to a terse, heartfelt plea to the young boy.

Not One Less recognizes the poverty in China's rural areas and insufficient funds for the necessities of education.  With the aid of Hou Yong, bright hues are observed in the dichotomy of the bustling urban areas with the remote, dusty countryside.  Not one scene indicates that the Chinese government or young educators would be less than gratified of how an impoverished peasant persists for a pupil.

Not One Less

Home | Search | Reviewer Bios | Links | Mail Us
Copyright © 2005 Projections