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    Out, damp spot

    A son returns to the family-run bathhouse that's the heart of a traditional community slated for demolition in the likeable, sensual and wet Chinese comedy "Shower."


    As the opening credits of "Shower" roll, we see a clean-cut Chinese yuppie walk into a high-tech street kiosk that automatically carries out the title activity. The man methodically removes his clothes, steps onto a turntable and is rotated, scrubbed and rinsed by the whirring machinery. The scene is funny, seductive — and totally misleading. The rest of the film is deliberately different from this scene. This is the last image we see of the modern, yuppie China that's about to obliterate the old-China neighborhood that's the real subject of this story.

    Original title: 洗滌.
    Directed by: Yang Zhang.
    Written by: Liu Fen Dou, Cai Xiang Jun, Diao Yi Nan, Huo Xin, Yang Zhang.
    Cast: Zhu Xu, Pu Cun Xin, Jiang Wu, He Zeng, Zhang Jin Hao, Lao Lin, Lao Wu.
    Cinematography: Jian Zhang.
    In Mandarin with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    The story revolves around Da Ming (Pu Cun Xin), a well-to-do urbanite who rushes home for the first time in years after his retarded brother sends him a card that makes him think his father has died. The father (Zhu Xu), known respectfully to his customers as "Master Liu," runs a traditional bathhouse that's been the neighborhood elders' meeting place for decades — where deals get made, disputes are settled and community is knit together. All of this will be lost when the neighborhood is wiped off the map to make way for some fancy new development the government has in mind.

    It's obvious that Da Ming ran away from this place as soon as he was old enough to go to the city and make the big bucks, but once he's back he quickly falls into the age-old rhythm of the bathhouse: open up, fill pools, greet customers, distribute towels, solve problems, clean, close. The neighborhood men welcome him back warmly, and he seems to quickly warm to the place he probably never wanted to see again. As people come in on the run from loan sharks or distraught over marital problems, Da Ming seems almost poised to take over his father's place as unofficial wise man of the neighborhood.

    Another difference between the opening shower scene and the rest of the movie is that the rest of the movie is not about sharp-looking, well-built young men parading nude in front of the camera. The men of the bathhouse come in all ages and sizes, most of them far from sexy, and yet the film has a constant steamy sensuality. The retarded brother, Er Ming (Jiang Wu), is the one most in touch with this side of the bath business — he spends all day wet, energetic and happy, and he makes sure the customers will share his total enjoyment. Watching the film, we too can almost feel the sheer pleasure of hot water on bare skin.

    What will happen to these people — the elderly father, the retarded son, the wayward son, and the community that has grown around the bathhouse — when the neighborhood is paved over? That's a question not only for the characters in the film but for the Chinese people as they remove the old and embrace the modern. It could just as well be a question for us Americans, who don't have these kinds of natural community centers at all. "Shower," besides being a warm, wet pleasure to watch, raises these issues subtly but unmistakeably for a country in the grip of change.

    JULY 9, 2000

    Reader comments on Shower:

  • "Shower"   from David Bretton, Sep 23, 2000
  • showering praise on "shower"   from ellen siemens, Apr 15, 2001
  • Shower   from Pearl, Sep 1, 2003
  • Comment on "Shower".   from Bill Lawrence, Oct 7, 2007
  • Shower   from Ann von Lossberg, Apr 24, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Shower"