Understanding China: Five films
(1999, directed by Zhang Yang, starring Pu Cunxin, Zhu Xu,Jiang Wu)
China’s transition to a market economy and frenetic growth magnifies the tensions between old and new present in any rapidly developing society. In a warm, funny way, Shower focuses on these tensions, with an extraordinary cast that includes many of the top actors in China today. The film tells the story of a father and his two sons; the elder son has moved to Shenzen in pursuit of a fast-track business career, but returns obligingly to Beijing to visit the family and slowly recovers his root as he comes to appreciate his father’s slow, community-centred lifestyle and realise his responsibilities for his younger, mentally disabled brother.
One of the few movies that really brings to life the colour and flavour of old Beijing now rapidly disappearing, Shower gives a sense of both what China was and what it is struggling to become without descending into Hollywood sentimentality. The film illustrates the theme of changing cultural values beautifully through contrasting the film’s post-modern opening scenes of a sleek, individualised automated public shower facility in downtown Beijing to the warm, traditional society of an old-style bathhouse (operated by the father) portrayed in the rest of the film.
The old neighbourhood surrounding the bathhouse threatened by the development of a shopping mall and the unsentimental attempts of all the colourful characters around the bathhouse to come to grips with the threat to their relationships and way of life, Shower offers insights into a key tension in China today.