Politics, shmolitics. If films like Not One Less, The Road Home
, and Happy Times
are going to be this effective when Zhang eschews the subtext-laden diatribes of his '90s epic dramas, then I don't care how little attention he pays to the government anymore. After taking care of business with masterpieces like Raise the Red Lantern
and To Live
, Zhang doesn't need to prove his counter-cultural politicism anymore; it would be like Radiohead making yet another conventional rock album after The Bends.
might be the weakest of these three recent teenage-girl-grows-up movies where Zhang's female leads chronologically and gradually stop being affected by the government and start dealing exclusively with emotional relationships, but it's still really friggin' good. Lacking the visual splendor and romantic aching of The Road Home
(a great exploration of the sacrifices we make for love -- as noble a theme as any despite its perceived simplicity) as well as the brute courage of action in Not One Less, Happy Times
makes its mark by dropping in scenes of smooth, quiet comedy to build its foundation: an earnestly moving father-daughter relationship. That Zhao will never have children and Little Wu will never see her father again is almost beside the point; it's still an enormously moving surrogate bond, tear-jerking due to the strength of the performances and Zhang's delicate camera rather than manipulative or maudlin gimmicks. Given his genius for storytelling and his freakishly unblemished record, Zhang could conceivably film paint drying and make it resonate with deep, lasting emotion.
P.S. Go to my website
for this exact same review.