“Shower” 1999 Zhang Yang Commentary

Posted: October 17th, 2013





“Shower” 1999 Zhang Yang Commentary

“Chai {destruction in Chinese} is the theme of much contemporary Chinese visual art. It points not only to the physical demolition of the city scape but also, more profoundly, to the symbolic and psychological destruction of the social fabrics of families and neighborhoods” (Zhang, 138). “Shower” by Zhang Yang is undoubtedly a classic in Chinese cinema. The film is set in a dilapidated part of Beijing. It portrays a modern replica of the prodigal son who returns to the dwelling of his father and a mentally challenged brother. The father and the retarded son, Erming, have been working together to maintain a bathhouse that serves the community. Da Ming returns home having done well for himself as a businessperson back in Shenzen. After abandoning his father and brother for years, he comes back having married. It is unfortunate that the woman he married has never met the family. This is an emerging issue of social disconnectedness present in Chinese society today. The film presents serious societal issues and still manages to bring them out comically.

Braester asserts “on the outskirts of major urban centers or in sparsely populated counties far from the metropolis, in areas formerly occupied by farms or barren land, the boomtowns known as ‘instant cities’ crop up” (1). “Shower” is proof that the community is dying out in China, with the collective culture dying out to pave the way for progress. When Da Ming comes from the city and finds that his father is still operating a bathhouse, Da Ming does not comprehend the necessity of operating the bathhouse for such a long time. He prefers automated bathhouses where one has to use a coin to start a bath. This is what he is accustomed to in the city.

Zhang Yang is making a statement on the coldness and estrangement that is the feature of contemporary cultures. The predicament is that people in these societies are intent on living life individually and focus only on making money. This value is enabled by capitalism only ends in alienation from one’s family and friends. Zhang Yang manages to portray in the film that life is more fulfilling when one is among loved ones. Meaningful relationships can be developed where people care for each other. Da Ming realized that the bathhouse he despised had more value than what he had originally anticipated, as it was part of life in that small community in Beijing.

Da Ming’s younger brother Erming is mentally challenged. It would be difficult for him to get a job anywhere else. The bathhouse has accepted him as an employee and as a member. He Zhang is financially obligated to some thugs, and he, therefore, runs away to seek sanctuary inside the bathhouse. As a result, Da Ming pays the debt on his behalf, making Da Ming understand the importance of the bathhouse and the relevance of a caring community. Something he did not have in the city. He has a hard time making a decision between his accomplishments in the city and the rediscovery of a better life in a home he abandoned.

“China has achieved rapid transformation from a socialist police state to a post socialist consumer society” (Zhang, 43). This rapid transformation observed in the 90’s is what Zhang Yang tries to capture in the film ‘Shower’. A society, once a community, finds itself getting used to the idea of progress. Consumerism has gripped China and people want profit. Everybody in the small neighborhood in ‘Shower’ was distraught, when it was discovered that the bathhouse and the whole neighborhood was to be torn down to pave the way for the building of a new commercial district. They had nowhere else to go, and they understood that the destruction of their homes did not only mean losing their livelihoods, but also the friendships and families that were born there.

Works Cited

Braester, Yomi and Tweedie, James. Cinema at the City’s Edge: Film and Urban Networks in East Asia. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010. Print.

Zhang, Yingjin. Cinema, Space, and Polylocality in a Globalizing China. Honolulu, HL: University of Hawaii Press, 2010. Print.

Zhang, Zhen, Ed. The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema and Society at the Turn of the Twentyfirst Century. Alexandria, VA: Duke University Press, 2007. Print






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