While failing to make a ripple in its theatrical release compared to the wave of attention given to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Shower" quietly demonstrates much of the best of what Chinese cinema has to offer- "Shower" is filled with compelling characters, interesting relationships and a somewhat disarming poetic touch to storytelling without concern for any sort of "hollywood ending." From its opening scene, "Shower" seems to disarm the viewer of any preconceived notions about the film and, as it goes from good to great in the second half of the film, it becomes an extremely involving, enjoyable and impressive film.
In what may seem like a bit of irony, "Shower" is actually a story which largely takes place in an old bath-house in a small town in China. The film focuses on the owner, Mr. Liu and his two children, Er Ming and Da Ming. While Da Ming has attained wealth after moving to the big city and has started his own family, Er Ming lives a rather simple life with his father, helping him run the bath-house. Da Ming soon returns to the bath house to see his father and ends up staying, helping his father and brother run the bath-house for a while and reassimilating with his old life.
"Shower" frequently focuses on the contrast between tradition and modernity. As the film begins with an image of a fully automated shower stall which functions much like a car wash and the film quickly contrasts this image with the old bath-house, rich in long standing traditions and services like the baths, the style of massage and the use of fire cups (heated cups placed stuck onto a person's back to relieve pain). Although at times in the background of the story, the struggle between tradition and modernity is a strong theme which runs throughout the film. Present in these opening scenes, in Da Ming's preference to for showers over baths, and in the threats to the continued vitality of the bath-house itself, evidence of this struggle can be found. Filmmaker Zhang Yang portrays this struggle with impressive depth, particularly with respect contrast between the sophisticated Da Ming and the simple, child-like Er Ming, and Da Ming's subsequent transformation.
A great strength of the film is in the tremendous performances of Jiang Wu and Pu Cunxin as the Ming brothers. Their performances well complement the depth with which the characters were written and truly bring to the surface the real soul of the movie. The interactions between the two brothers and with their father are quite endearing, especially as the dynamics of their relationships begin to change.
While the story of "Shower" is interesting and enjoyable, a few scenes in the film raise the film to a higher level. The film's greatness reaches it apex in a scene depicting a story told by the father. While the scene initially seems a bit out of place in the film, it is a scene of intense beauty and emotion and demonstrates the talent which Zhang Yang possesses. To describe other scenes would be to divulge developments and twists of the storyline. Nevertheless, these scenes help make "Shower" into a film of both humor and beauty which is truly a treat to watch.
"Shower" is presented in Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. While the picture is plagued by numerous spots and dust particles, these are more likely a product of the original film and not the digital transfer. While these imperfections in the print are present in more than one instance, they are insufficient to disrupt the viewers enjoyment of this absorbing movie. Also the subtitles in the film are quite clear and easy to read.
"Shower" is presented in Mandarin Chinese 5.1 Dolby Digital (with English Subtitles) The film is mainly dialogue-driven (and in Mandarin) so the sound is not as important element in the film. Nevertheless, the sound quality of the film is generally quite good with no problems which impede listening enjoyment. Further, the sound levels of the film remain fairly constant and do not require serious alteration at any time throughout the film.
While it is to be expected from a small foreign film, the number of bonus features on this DVD is rather minimal. The DVD contains talent files for the stars of the film, Zhu Xu, Jiang Wu and Pu Cunxin, and director Zhang Yang. The DVD also contains trailers for "The King of Masks," which features Zhu Xu, "The Emperor and the Assassin" and "Not One Less." While more special features would be made the DVD even more enjoyable, the recommendation of three other fine Chinese films is a very nice resource for people with very limited exposure to the country's rich film works.
For those who have had relatively little exposure to Chinese cinema and those well familiar with the gems which have come out of China, "Shower" is quite an impressive film. With characters of tremendous depth, a touching, enjoyable story, a nice sense of humor and some extremely strong performances, this is a film which is definitely worth watching and which makes a fine addition to one's film library.