The King Of Masks

Wu Tianming (Old Well)the former godfather of mainland China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers when he headed the Xian film studio and green-lighted such innovative pictures as The Horse Thief, Red Sorghum, and King of Childrenreturned to filmmaking in 1996 after an extended stint in the U.S. This beautifully inflected and wholly accessible tale, set in Sichuan in the 30s, concerns an aging street performer (Zhu Xu) who unknowingly purchases and adopts a little girl (Zhou Ren-ying), thinking she’s a boy, with the intention of training an heir. Though the premise sounds hokey, the storytelling and performances are so expressive that one might not even notice the subtle and detailed commentary being offered on gender politics. An actor and female impersonator (Zhao Zhigang) plays a pivotal role in the proceedings. In Mandarin with subtitles. 101 min. (JR)

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