By Nicole Kobie
Fast food or a home cooked meal? An automated car wash or leisurely waxing your car on a Sunday? A shower or a day spent at a traditional bathhouse? The latter is the difference looked at in Shower.
The Chinese film is the story of Da Ming, a modern, wealthy, finely-dressed businessman who returns to his working-class family after he is misinformed by his mentally challenged younger brother that their father–Liu, who runs a bathhouse –has died.
The sedated lifestyle is in direct contrast to DA Ming’s busy schedule. DA Ming no longer understands the bonding and friendship created by the steamy setting, but soon begins to remember the appeal.
He realizes his father doesn’t just massage bodies, scrub backs and cleanse skin, but heals the soul as well. Liu’s bathhouse gives a nervous teenager an audience for his vocal talents, local seniors a place to retreat to and a dying marriage a setting in which to rekindle. After a series of tragedies, he is forced to reimmerse himself in the family business and eventually take care of his brother.
While the topic–the pace of people’s lives and the loss of traditions–is not exactly ground breaking, director Zhang Yang tells the story with a fresh subtlety and grace. The movie lacks the Hollywood sheen for sure, but also lacks the typical clichés and heavy-handedness. Scenes of half-naked, elderly Chinese men are not gross or strange but happy and dignified. The contrast between the intelligent, cultured older brother and handicapped, simple younger brother is as heartwarming as in Rain Man, and the ever-narrowing gap between the two characters is more gradual and believable.
The opening scene, of a carwash-style shower, is perfectly contrasted with the slow, inefficient bathhouse. The former may be cheaper and more convenient, but the latter has hidden benefits, ones that can only be known from experience. In this age of replacing the old and tired with the new and convenient, what has been lost? In this era of urbanization and modernization, this topic has never been more poignant.