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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
The King of Masks
Directed by Wu Tianming
Columbia TriStar 04/99 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Directed and produced by Wu Tianming, this soul stirring drama marks his return to China after an eight-year hiatus in the United States after Tiananmen Square. The King of Masks is set in Sichuan Province during the 1930s when poverty-stricken parents give away their female infants rather than deal with the burdens of raising a woman in a rigidly patriarchal society.
Master Wang (Zhu Xu) is a skilled street practitioner of the ancient art of face-changing. Through the use of masks, he is able to transform himself into a variety of characters. But in his heart, Master Wang is sad since he has no male heir to whom he can pass on his art. Purchasing a cute little boy he plans to train as his son, he returns to his riverboat home only to discover that Doggie (Zhou Ren-ying) is actually a little girl. Despite the humiliations she has to endure, this resilient girl stays on as Wang's cook and apprentice acrobat.
The drama illustrates the extreme lengths Doggie is willing to go to demonstrate her love and loyalty to the man she cherishes. In one of the film's most poignant moments, she picks up a goddess statue on his boat and points out that he worships her. In this case, the gap between religion and reality is a yawning abyss.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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