THE KING OF MASKS directed by Wu Tianming

Film / Video Reviews
THE KING OF MASKS directed by Wu Tianming
Mar 7, 2000, 06:24

THE KING OF MASKS directed by Wu Tianming; Columbia Tristar, 1996

Set in pre-Revolutionary China, The King of Masks is a tale that addresses the role of women in Chinese culture through the relationship between a poor, old street performer and his apprentice. Bian Lian Wang (Zhu Xu) is an illusionist who uses an old family art form, the mime-like changing of masks, to earn a living. These masks mysteriously change, creating a new personality or character, with each wave of Wang's hand. Wang is distraught because his only son has died and he desperately wants to pass on his art to a male heir before the secret dies with him. When Wang enchants Master Liang (Zhao Zhigang), the star of the heralded Chinese Opera, Liang convinces Wang to seek an heir and pass on this tradition. Wang finds a market where children, due to grave poverty, are sold for a few dollars. Parents so desperate attempt to give away their daughters, but Wang needs a boy. He finds his “son” when he answers the cry of “grandfather.” When the child (Zhou Ren-ying) grows up, Wang realizes that he has been tricked into buying a girl. The relationship that follows is an interesting play between human compassion and strict, traditional values. Tianming creates a dramatic story that plays on emotion without getting too sappy or drawn out. He has created a film that's both entertaining and beautiful to watch.

-Troy Brookins

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