Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zhu Xu, Pu Cun Xin, Jiang Wu, He Zheng, Zhang Jin Hao, Lao Lin, Lao Wu
Written by: Liu Fen Dou, Yang, Huo Xin, Diao Yi Nan, and Cai Xiang Jun
Directed by: Zhang Yang
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and nudity
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 92
Date: 09/14/1999

Shower (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Warm But Never Hot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shower is a celebration of water. It begins with a futuristic sequence of a man stepping into a pay booth on the street. He takes his clothes off and begins to experience a shower, much like a car wash. We see that there are other, similar booths on the street as well, like phone booths. We begin to think that this may not be a bad idea. But it all turns out to be the pipe dream of a customer at a public bath in China.

Director Zhang Yang brings us the story of life in this public bath, with lots of little stories and conflicts going on, but the overall atmosphere is one of amiability. The customers of the bath have been regulars for years and it's their way of life. Most of the draw of Shower is that many of us are not familiar with this setting, and it's interesting. Zhang draws us in effortlessly, even though his main story is an old and predictable one.

An estranged son returns home to his father and his retarded brother who run the bathhouse, mistakenly under the impression that his father has died. The longer he stays, the more he realizes what he's missed in his life -- his family, the comfort and companionship of regular customers, and the knowledge of a job well done. Moviemakers have long used retarded folks as symbols of getting back to basics, forgetting how complex your life has become, and stopping to smell the roses. So it has been from Rain Man (1988) to the recent Mifune (1999). Shower offers nothing new in this scenario, but it doesn't bang you over the head with it either. The storytelling is relaxed, much like the customers in the bath house.

Two men spend all day battling their prized crickets, and one man who sings in the shower is unable to sing on stage until the retarded brother sprays him with a hose. And so it goes. We see flashbacks as the men tell stories of the time of droughts, when folks had to travel miles to bathe for weddings. One man is having real trouble with his marriage, and he comes to the bath house to talk about it. But the heartbreaker comes at the end, when the city decides that progress must impede and the bath house must come down. Before then, we really feel like we've spent some time somewhere worthwhile.

Despite the old-time sentimental storyline, Shower turns out to be quite a refreshing film.

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