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Top Customer Reviews
The plot gets more complex and held me captive with emotion as I was swept into the story and completely identified with the characters and all their problems, especially after the old man and the girl attend a Chinese opera, where female impersonators are stars. There, the ancient story of a woman sacrificing herself for her father is played out in highly dramatic costumed theatrics.
I loved this film - not only for the wonderful story and great acting, but it brought me right into the heart of China and let me immerse myself in another time and place. Yes, there is a happy ending, but not until there were more twists and turns of the plot and I never knew how it would all turn out. Acting was outstanding and I must applaud the actors, Yu Zhu as the old man, Zhigang Zhang as the female impersonator and - mostly, Renying Zhou as the little girl. Rarely have I seen such a fine performance by an 8-year old. Therefore, this film gets one of my highest recommendations. And even though there are some sad and scary parts, I recommend it for everyone.
This would be good paired with "Heidi", "Whale Rider" or "About a Boy".
Basically, it's about an old man searching for an heir to pass on his Chinese-mask traditions. He's looking, goes to the blackmarket where it's filled with desperate mothers trying desperately to sell their children---mostly daughters. It's not that they want to make big money off the children, it's to keep them from being abandoned and starving to death. So if you want a hell on earth, it's here. Anyway, he steps right over them without a glance at the weeping, begging, heartbreaking desperation.
Finally he gets a boy! All is right in his world. The son is treated like a king. Then after an accident...the son is revealed for something else. Poof, he casts the weeping little child out to starve in the streets, heartbroken and devastated.
Through much adventure, and the child's bravery, the old man learns to reevaluate his values and priorities. (Frankly, I don't know if I could trust that old man again after him turning on me that way--but this is a child.)
China has long had a patriarchal society, where the female population suffers blatant discrimination as a lower class of human existence. The King of Masks portrays this disparity between the sexes in The Middle Kingdom through the story of the last remaining master of face-changing opera who is searching for a male heir to whom he can pass his family secrets of the specialized art. When rendering the subtle plot into focus through a lens that questions the country's priorities in terms of values, two scenes stand out that demonstrate an emphasis to preserve the traditional order of masculine hierarchies.
Scanning the orphanage for a potential student and future heir of his unique training, the King of Masks is confronted by potential sellers trying to rid themselves of unwanted children--most of whom are female and therefore considered relatively useless. In fact, at one point, when one of the sellers is begging the King of Masks to take a little girl the master refuses to acknowledge the woman's pleas, even when she drops her price to a measly two dollars. At one-fifth the original price, the King of Masks quietly scoffs that no girl would be worth that amount of fortune. Yet, as soon as a boy cries out, "Grandpa," the King of Masks appears near tears at the thought of having an heir finally. Gladly he pays the two dollars and takes the boy home, hand in hand.Read more ›
As I said the actors playing the Old Master and the young girl are simply marvelous. Wonderful faces, wonderful performances. Also to be noted is the actor playing the female impersonator Opera star. It is these performances that make the film work even when it begins to stretch the sentimentality and credibility a bit at the end. By then you shouldn't mind because you should be caught up in their drama and care for these characters.
A simple, nicely told tale, that also demonstrates the harshness of the social contract in the 30's in China and everywhere. You were on your own. And that harshness still exists in many places in the world. Another reviewer has explained some of the reasons for the Old Master's (and the culture's) insistence on passing on the craft to a male heir. But, that aside, it was a hard world for little girls without family. And it is a reminder in these times of how harsh a culture can be that does not value women.
That one can learn that value is best placed where the heart is, is not a bad lesson to remember anytime. Beats the hell out of 90% of the drivel coming out of Hollywood. 4 1/2 stars.
Most recent customer reviews
The film, King of Masks was excellent. It deals with a man who is a busker using Sichan opera scenes with the old masks and changing them magically. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Susan L. King
This is an extraordinarily great movie, a all time favourite in my opinion. I watched this movie two times about 10 years ago, the second time with my parents. Read morePublished on Jan. 11 2007 by Chun Hing Chan
This is a wonderful film, set in 1930s Sichuan, about an old man who is the last living practitioner of face-mask changing. Read morePublished on March 25 2004 by audrey frances
Even though I saw this movie years ago it still comes up in conversation and will forever be one of my favorite movies. Read morePublished on Jan. 21 2004 by Ed Campos
Probably one of the best movies I have ever seen -- always makes me cry at the end. Thank goodness it didn't end tragically like so many Chinese movies seem to.Published on Oct. 8 2003
The end of this sweet movie will make you cry like a biaatch. Get your tissues.Published on Aug. 10 2003 by S. Johnson
This is an amazing movie that anyone who wants an uplifting experience should watch. I won't go into the political details which other reviewers are fixated on. Read morePublished on July 22 2003 by Wicasawakan
An amazingly moving tale of an untraditional relationship reflecting the traditional Chinese virtue of filial love and duty. Read morePublished on Feb. 27 2003 by Fresh Lychee