The King of Masks (1996) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for thematic material
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Zhu Xu, Zhou Ren-ying, Zhang Riuyang, Zhao Zhigang
Director: Wu Tian-ming
Screenplay: Chen Wengui
Review published March 19, 1999
THE KING OF MASKS tells the story of an aging street performer in 1930s China who makes his living using the art of his masks. Now in his waning years, he seeks to pass on his family art-form to an heir, a boy, which he does not have. He attempts to adopt a son, but finds that only girls are being sold at prices he can afford on the black market, and a girl just won't do. Eventually, he finds a young boy to adopt, but complications ensue when the boy he thinks will finally pass on his tradition is really a girl.
THE KING OF MASKS is an endearing gem which most viewers will probably have never seen or even heard of, but is well-worth seeking out for its portrayal of characters and unique setting. The plot isn't anything that will fool anyone, as most will guess that the relationship will yo-yo, and eventually lead to the old man accepting the girl as the heir to his art. The acting is hit-and-miss and the directing is nothing fancy, but there's nice locations, likeable characters, and some insightful writing that pulls everything together for a satisfying tale. THE KING OF MASKS is definitely a recommended film for those who might be bored with the same-old same-old on the video shelf.
©1999 Vince Leo