Yi ge dou bu neng shao or Not One Less (1999). This is also a well-received and well-applauded film in the international scene. Not surprising for it is a film directed by the same man who gave us Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, and actress Zhang Ziyi (via The Road Home) – Zhang Yimou.
Based on “There is a Sun in the Sky” by Shi Xiang Sheng, who also wrote the screenplay, the story tells about a young girl who actually represents China’s poor and practically illiterate sector. Oh, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
In the movie, Wei Min Zhi, young and barely out of her teens, is given the task to substitute for the very dedicated Teacher Gao at the Shiuxian Village’s school in Beijing. Having big and understandable doubts, Teacher Gao still hands over the reins to her for a while as he is left with no choice.
It being a job, Wei asks for payment. They haggle until they both agree to a decision, that he will make sure she gets paid provided that in his absence, no student leaves schooling to work, “not one less.” Wei intends to keep this promise, a promise that eventually becomes threatened when one of the students runs away.
It is obvious that Not One Less is a movie intended to serve as an eye-opener and does not pretend to be anything else. It touches on issues such as poverty, child labor and illiteracy. It is realistic enough as who are we to say that a situation such as Wei’s does not exist? And yet it also touches on the importance of education, sense of responsibility, patience, even hope.
While you maybe amused by the story from time to time, you can’t help but feel pity for the characters. Imagine a 13-year-old kid forced by the need to earn and teach other kids almost her own age. I winced between chuckles as Wei struggled to find the right words to teach the only song she claimed she knew, the right answers to simple mathematics, and the right way to find the missing boy in the jungle called The City.
The story is told in quite a simple manner. No music, no flairs and, save for one – Li Fan Fan – no real celebrities. Read the credits and you’ll soon realize that none of the cast, whether main or not, were real actors (reading credits is one informative but often neglected activity when we watch movies). In fact, everyone used his or her own name! Wei Min Zhi was actually a student from Zhenlingbao Village Middle School. Trouble-maker Zhang Huike was actually also another student from another school. Teacher Gao (Gao Enman) was a real primary school teacher.
Though the story was not based on a particular and actual person’s life, the cast played their own roles, from the young runner-athlete to the village mayor to the TV anchor.
There is no great acting. I must say the better. Raw acting can sometimes make everything more believable. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, it’s like seeing a familiar situation in my country’s own backyard! A plus for Zhang Huike’s infectious smile. But even that, I missed the first time I saw him cry and in this particular scene:
Li Fan Fan: Do you like the city?
Zhang Huike: Yes.
Li Fan Fan: What is good about it?
Zhang Huike: The city is beautiful and progressive. Much better than the countryside.
Li Fan Fan: What’s the most lasting impression?
Zhang Huike (pauses and the smile fades): That I had to beg for food. I will always remember that.
So if you feel you can break away from all the hi-tech, gory and adrenaline-rushing flicks, opt for a simple and realistic story. Here it is and don’t expect any butt-kicking Wei Min Zhi anytime soon. Just isn’t going to happen.
I give this movie FOUR-AND-A-HALF STARS!!!
It is my wish that you guys get to watch this movie. It’s so simple, it’s beautiful. But if I’m not mistaken, the movie is now uploaded in YouTube, complete with the English subtitles. I used to have a copy but someone borrowed it, who let others borrow it, and now it is supposedly lost. Nope, no attempt to replace it, sadly.
This review is posted already in IMDb, but I was going to share anyway, so why not share as my “N” post for the April challenge: