"Not One Less" is the truly remarkable story of a 13 year-old girl who is brought in as a substitute primary school teacher in a small Chinese village, who must fill in for the villages teacher who is going away for one month. She is left with the instruction that, although it is difficult to keep children of the village in school, that she would only be paid for her month's labor if every student remained in the class, not one less.
Mainstream hollywood films have caused viewers to expect plots to unfold in a certain way. While it seems a world away, the viewer expects "Stand and Deliver" or "Dangerous Minds" or "Dead Poets Society" to unfold under the Chinese landscape. Instead, what unfolds is a truly unique and enjoyable story, and while the characters seem to obstinately refuse to act in the manner in which a viewer might expect them to, (especially the teacher), the result is the appreciation of a true story that is, in its own way, even more impressive.
Not One Less is based on a true story, and to give the film an even greater sense of realism, all of the major characters in the film are played by the individuals themselves, meaning that the teacher in the film WAS the teacher in the story. Whether the actors' great success is the result of great performances by amateurs who have seldom been in front of a camera before, or the easiest parts one could hope to have remains to be seen, but in either case, any suspension of disbelief is remarkably easy, and the viewer can truly feel like he or she is in the middle of all the action.
Again, while wrapped up in the middle of the film is a definite social agenda, it never seems to get in the way of the film or drive it along. While the epilogue does make this social action point clear, the film never comes close to being "preachy" and is a far better film for it, as it generally lets the story speak for itself.
This film was directed by Zhang Yimou, who has a long pedigree of wonderfully enjoyable asian dramas, including "Shanghai Triad" and "Raise the Red Lantern." In fact, viewers who enjoy this film are definitely urged to check out Zhang Yimou's other films. His flare and fantastic talent is identifiable throughout the film, and his ability to capture this story without seeming too intrusive is to be commended.
"Not One Less" is presented in widescreen presentation, with an aspect ration of 1.85:1. The use of the widescreen format makes the film's english subtitles incredibly easy to read, (as they are largely against a black background) and the film generally looks good. There are a number of imperfections on the print, including a vertical line which appears throughout one scene, however, none of these substantially detract from the enjoyment of the film. The colors and the landscapes still appear quite rich and true, and the print is an enjoyable one.
The film is presented in its original language, a 2 channel Dolby Surround Mandarin track. The film is heavily driven by dialogue, and the dialogue in the film sounds good throughout the film (although many American viewers will be paying closer attention to the subtitles for what was said than the sound of it being said itself.) The sound quality remains clear and crisp enough to allow the viewer to enjoy the sound of the film.
Sadly, this DVD is fairly lacking in Bonus Materials. While the DVD contains previews for "Not One Less," "The King of Masks," "The Story of Qiu Ju" and "Shanghai Triad," the DVD lacks any other bonus materials. The fact that the film was made with the characters being portrayed by themselves, and the unlikely story which is the focus of the film seems to truly scream for some kind of documentary on the making of the film. While this may seem like a bit of a tall order for a foreign film, the film's distributor, Columbia Tri-Star should have sought to obtain an additional featurette documenting the making of the film.
While Zhang Yimou's film rarely disappoint, "Not One Less" is a pleasant surprise. While the film did not garner much attention in its theatrical release, it is an enjoyable film, and a perfect antidote to an overload of summer blockbusters now on DVD. This film is as unpredictable and unconventional as it could be and benefits tremendously as a result. I would definitely recommend this film for anyone seeking such a change of pace.