King of Masks

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The first film in ten years from the one-time godfather of China's 'fifth generation' directors is an eloquent and deeply felt protest against greed and inhumanity; any relevance to the state of Chinese society in the 1990s is, of course, purely coincidental. The story centres on an elderly street entertainer in the rural Sichuan of the 1930s (his act involves switching masks with uncanny speed) who realises that he risks dying without an heir to inherit the secrets of his art. He decides to adopt a son, but the boy he buys from a penniless man turns out to be a tomboy who brings him little but grief. The film's allegorical implications are almost as plain as its attacks on sexual inequalities and political misrule, but Wu lets nothing get in the way of very expressive images and a very emotive plot.

By: TR

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