I have shown this film to my English students after having read Dai Sijie's book, BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS, because of the portrayal of communism and the effects of the Chinese "cultural revolution". While it at first appears to be loaded with communist propoganda, it becomes apparent by the end of the film that it is an outspoken criticism of Mao and this harsh period of recent Chinese history.
Aside from the political overtones, this is also a masterful study of overcoming loss and adversity that transcends cultural or political boundaries. While my students almost invariably complain about the subtitles at the beginning of the showing, by the end, they have been completely drawn in, and are laughing and crying on cue. If this isn't the true test of a great flick, I don't know what is.
A masterpiece, and one that everyone should see.