Zhang Yang’s movie is a nostalgic, mostly classical tale of young businessman Liu Daming’s return to the old-quarter Beijing bathhouse run by his father and retarded brother Erming, and it provides old-fashioned pleasures: gently humorous insights into the idiosyncrasies of a mainly elderly male clientele; an examination of familial responsibility and belonging; a meditation on the cost of change in terms of lost affiliations (and the institutions that facilitate them).
The stylistic flourish associated with Zhang’s rock-promo background is evident mainly in the opening sequences, where Daming (Pu Cunxin) fantasises about producing a hyperbolically hi-tech porta-shower. Thereafter, Daming’s slow immersion into the bathhouse’s daily routineowith its foot therapies, massages and discussion groupsois mirrored in the leisurely filming and the almost documentary detachment. One of the nicest touches is the use of lyrical cutawaysoto rain pattering on the roof, the undulating surface of the pool shot from an unusual angleoto remind us both of the secluded, refuge-like nature of the institution and of how Daming’s sense of estrangement is slowly ebbing by growing familiarity.
China, 1999.English subtitles.Colour.Dolby stereo.94 mins.