Street Theater
King of Masks
Review by Ross Anthony

A Chinese film with English subtitles, "The King of Masks" starts out strong and enduring, but squanders its tender sincerity on dramatics.

A sweet and aging street performer with no male descendants to carry on his mask-changing art resorts to purchasing an orphan boy. The relationship between the two outcasts from opposite ends of the life cycle is as warm and rich to witness as the man's artistry. However, very early on we (the audience) learn that the boy is really a girl, a promising conflict to this modest paradise. Soon thereafter, the old man wises up to this fact as well. A strong animosity between the two develops into a spark which ignites an unnecessary fire of dramatic events resulting in the old man's incarceration.

If I could forgive the accidental fire and the pending hanging of the old man (which I could), then I would have enjoyed the orphan's desperate, though theatric, act of redemption (which I did). But, it went too far. Already dangerously teetering on the melodramatic, this powerfully sweet scene concludes with entirely anticlimactic redundant and plainly putrid dialogue. Where was the editor?

If my words are harsh on this little film, it's only because the filmmakers wet my appetite with a wonderful setting to what I'd expected to be a great film.

Why spill the beans so soon? This unique relationship would have been enough to keep me interested -- I didn't need the pseudo drama. Why not have the girl keep her secret well into her teens, only to find out after the old man dies that he knew her secret all along?

Starring Chu Yuk and Chao Yim Yin.
Directed by Zhu Xu.
Shaw Brothers distributed by Samuel Goldwyn.
Mandarin w/ English Subtitles.


Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:06:21 PDT