Back to IndieWire

ROTTERDAM 2000 REVIEW: Zhang’s “Not One Less” Bold, Simple, Elegant

ROTTERDAM 2000 REVIEW: Zhang's "Not One Less" Bold, Simple, Elegant

ROTTERDAM REVIEW: Zhang's "Not One Less" Bold, Simple, Elegant

by Mark Adams

(indieWIRE/2.2.2000) — Simple, elegantly told and eventually uplifting, “Not One Less,” the
latest film from acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, is a thoroughly
enjoyable experience. It marks a change of pace from his 1995 film
Shanghai Triad,” and while it is not at all packed with drama, it does
reflect back to the simplicity and honesty of his earlier films like
Red Sorghum” and “Raise the Red Lantern.”

“Not One Less,” which was made by Columbia’s Chinese operation, rightly
won the important Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival. The
story is so universal that it could be set in virtually any culture, but
at the same time, is uniquely Chinese. It also contains a truly
remarkable central performance by young Wei Minzhi. She plays
13-year-old Wei, a youngster from a nearby village who is brought by the
local mayor to take over teaching at a primary school
while the usual teacher is away.

The departing teacher carefully counts out enough of his precious chalk
to last the entire time he will be away, introduces Wei to the children,
and promises payment when he returns — on the proviso that not a single
child drops out of the class. She does her best to try and control the
rambunctious lot, but 10-year-old Huike, a clever, naughty boy, sorely
tests her patience.

Then Wei loses one of her students to a state run sports school (the
girl is a top runner), and gets even more worried when young Huike heads
off to the city to try and find work to support his ailing mother. Wei
decides the only option is for her to go to the city and try and bring
him back. Initially, she and the class try and raise the money needed
for the bus fare by working at the local brick factory, but eventually
Wei hitchhikes. A country girl hits the big city.

Her search takes her from boarding house to railway station, and
eventually to the television station where the managing director takes
pity on her and in a wonderful scene puts her in front of the cameras to
talk about rural education and her lost pupil. She can barely string a
sentence together, but when she does talk about the lost boy tears fill
her eyes and she emotionally pleads for help in finding him. Of course,
in true filmic tradition, the telephones start ringing, the boy is
found, and teacher and pupil — plus a television crew — return the

It may all sound a little cute, and perhaps serious, but Zhang Yimou
directs with a warm and gentle touch, bringing out humour and joy in
ordinary situations and drawing out perfect performances from the young
children of the classroom as well as the elders of the village. The
ideals of the Cultural Revolution are expressed through the songs Wei
tries to teach the children.

The lush colours of the countryside are beautifully brought out by
cinematographer Hou Yong, who also makes the city seem dynamic and full
of activity, while the script by Shi Xiangsheng is full of good humour,
kindness and underlying patriotism while also very clearly pointing to
the inadequacies of the education system. This is impressive cinema from
a director comfortable and skilled in his craft. The film is simple,
bold and uplifting. Zhang Yimou brings out the best from his cast of
unskilled actors and while not afraid to be unsentimental, he imbues
“Not One Less” with an underlying
honesty that is refreshing and enjoyable to see.

[Mark Adams is a UK-based writer who currently writes reviews for the
Hollywood Reporter. He is a former correspondent for Variety and

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged