Yi ge dou bu neng shao (1999) Poster

User Reviews

Add a Review
73 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
A delightful story
Keith F. Hatcher4 February 2002
It might be a good idea to show this film in all schools in the `civilised' world! This is, anyway, a delightful story for all the family, hugely enjoyable, simply and lovingly told, and with just the most marvellous little Chinese girl imaginable! She has to stand in for the local schoolmaster who very definitely must go and visit his mother who is ill and dying. He leaves her in the middle of about twenty kids only a couple of years younger than herself to get on with the job as best she can, so as to earn 50 yuan in a school which is falling apart.

Now you might think that such a building could not possibly be a schoolhouse in remote rural China, or anywhere else. I assure you I have seen such schools – and not in such remote areas – in Indonesia, India, Afghanistan and in what was Portuguese Timor. Even here in Spain, in rural villages high up in the sierras, my wife has worked in schools in little villages where either the floorboards were rotting under her feet in front of the blackboard, or the plumbing did not work, or the lights did not switch on when you wanted them to, or the wood-burning stove in the middle of the room gave off billows of smoke so that you had to open the windows – with 10ºC below zero outside, or the window panes had no putty in them, and so on. And this, only a few years ago, in a modern, civilised European country.

Minzhi Wei playing the part of Wei Minzhi, who is herself with her own name (in Chinese the surname is put first) is a thirteen year old who will never make it to Hollywood, but is just the most beautiful school mistress you could imagine! I will not say anything about the story: you can see it for yourself. This young girl had to do it all – she is barely ever off the screen.

Yimou Zhang has given us a little gem, a beautiful story, with such wonderful participation by all those children, as well as the fine photography and Bao San's occasional accompanying music.

How nice to see a lovely story so naturally told! Can't we do things like this in Europe and the USA without it being all violence or overladen commercialism for the hungry masses? Can't we tell a real human story without all the technological special effects? Can't we make honest cinema……….?
27 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Let the reality show and speak and shine
yuntong kuo5 June 2005
Wei Minzhi plays Wei MinZhi, Zhang Huike plays Zhang Huike, the village mayor plays the village mayor... As a matter of fact, and in a clear statement of sort, the whole cast of this movie are real and ordinary people.

Zhang Yimou has gone the extraordinary miles to let reality tell the stories, stories of the decline and poverty in parts of rural China, of heart-wrenching conditions for schools and education under such poverty, of heart-warming spirit of happy, lively and adorable children in Shuiquan school blissfully ignorant of their condition, and of the 13 year old peasant girl Wei Mizhi's single minded determination for "Not One Less".

This movie is Zhang's daring experiment to use "normal reality" to tell reality, and he has achieved convincingly his goal. All characters in this movie are real, as in reality real. They are real because they have no means of being unreal, and that is the whole point of using real people.

Wei Minzhi's self-display (since I can not use the word performance here) is what she is: a 13 year old poor, good-natured, no-nonsense, single minded and tenacious peasant girl. She quickly learns to use her toughness to discipline or even bully her students. She seldom smiles, but is actually a pretty good leader because of her no-nonsense and toughness and single mindedness. She is extremely tenacious and is obsessed with "Not One Less".

The blissfully happy 10 year old trouble-maker and prospect kid migrant worker Zhang Huike's display is just so good that it is almost unreal. The village mayor is a natural real. Sun Zhimei, the girl who lost Zhang Huike in the city, is also as real as you can get.

The people I really like in this movie are the three girl students who sleep in school: Zhang Mingshan, Jiao Jie and Ming Xinhong. Zhang Mingshan is just so pretty and adorable. She is also smart and is a "student cadre". Jiao Jie has a such vivacious smile and has already some good business sense as she comes up with the moving brick idea and the cheating on bus ticket idea. Ming Xinhong loves to run, and her fleeting smile in the car leaving for athlete training school is simply priceless.

Ironically, notwithstanding the poor condition in Shuiquan school, I feel very warm and touched by the good spirit of the children. Shuiquan school is actually working, and working quite well, thanks to good teacher like Gao, good village mayor like Tian, and also to the "student cadre" system, all of which are legacy of Mao's era. Just look at how smart, creative and participating the students are in trying to solve the bus fair problem for Wei Minzhi, you know something is very right in that school. One of the right things in that school is the "student cadres" like the pretty, smart and caring Zhang Mingshan who's title is "study commissar" (xuexi weiyuan), usually the most responsible student in class and a teacher's favorite. We also see a boy "student cadre" in charge of morning "military drill" and flag raise ceremony.

Wei Minzhi is most of the time an uncaring teacher, except the issue of "Not One Less" which involves her pay. The one who real cares and helps out the class is the beautiful "study commissar" Zhang Mingshan. She writes out a student name list for Wei to do roll calls. When Wei sits outside letting trouble maker Zhang Huike reign free, she tells Wei that it is her (Wei) duty as a teacher to do something. When Huike knocks the precious chalks off the ground, she picks up these chalks and telling the tugging and struggling Wei and Huike don't step on the chalks. She even criticizes in her diary (read out by Huike in class over her protests but at the insistence of Wei) that Wei is not taking good care of chalks like teacher Gao would...

A little girl living in poverty and in that utterly dilapidated school but still writes a caring dairy of what is going on in class, something is very right.

Unlike many other Zhang Yimou's movies which are persistently followed with complaint by Chinese audience for "being tailored and catering to foreign taste and curiosity", "Not One Less" is very well received in China. In a surprise reversal of Zhang's fortune with Chinese authority, this movie has even been promoted as a "propaganda material" of sort by the Chinese government in its campaign for better rural education.
29 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
thomasbecker1088 January 2006
I was moved not only by the cultural value and socio-economic perspective of the movie, but also by the themes of compassion, hope, and diligence. As a middle school teacher, I also like how it brings out the idea that meaningful learning (in the classroom and beyond) takes place through real-life commitments, situations and applications.

As a note aside, notice the credits; although this movie is based on a Chinese novel, the director selected actors and actresses from the real world to play their real-life parts—complete with their real names and titles. Thus teacher Gao really is teacher Gao! Mayor Tien really is mayor Tien, and the kids, together with Minzhi Wei, really are village children, who have no acting experience. Thus the movie really is "realistic" in a true and meaningful way. Don't miss this one!
27 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A very good film!
Sharkey36022 October 1999
Not One Less (English title) is a movie that concentrated on why are there so many Chinese children who quit school. Let's face the facts of life...poverty can ruin one's plan for the future, and this was evident in the film. You'll really see how hard life in mainland China is, even though this is a movie. The story is gripping and very realistic. You'll really feel the hardness of being in poverty and having to quit what you're doing. For the characters, Wei is a substitute school teacher who would go to extremes (high determination) from handling a class to walking around the city looking for a missing person.

I highly recommend watching this Chinese movie to any movie lover out there. This film is NOT a waste of time, it is simply VERY GOOD.
17 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A definite MUST-SEE or NOT-TO-SEE, depending on...
nz man13 June 2001
At the moment this art house gem of a film rates an IMDB 7.9, so obviously many of us film buffs love it. This film is innovative, delicate, and harshly authentic. If you enjoy international film festival flicks, you MUST see this film. Actually I believe this film should be required viewing for film students who aspire to be directors, cinematographers, etc.

However, if you prefer action, Hollywood formula flicks, car chases or even complex plots, then avoid this film. You will probably fall asleep or just be irritated.

If you watch this film with your heart, with a good dose of patience, you you will then understand the message. If tears do not come to you during the main character's emotional appeal, then you are probably not aligned with the spirit of this film.

Personally I was stunned by the deep impact this film had on me. Yes, it was indeed 'slow', but this allowed for the genuine portrayal of common hope and suffering. I have been a film buff for over 4 decades and this film stands out as refreshingly different. By the way, it is supposed to be a true story, and this added significantly to the film's realism. Also, it does seem that none of the people in the film were professional actors, which is amazing in spite of a sort of documentary feel at times. If you have an open heart and mind, see it!
31 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Zhang Yimou at his best again
lwong9 March 2000
6 March 2000

"Not One Less"

It's the first great film of this year for me. `Not One Less' is storytelling at its dead straightest - most like the work of the contemporary Iranians Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami but also directly connected to the great Neorealists DeSica, Rosselini and Bunuel. All revel in telling culturally specific stories that reflect universal human experiences that are resonant across all time and place. But as I sat there, freshest on my mind was David Lynch's `The Straight Story.' Both Lynch and Zhang take us on a small journey that reflects a world's worth of living. Both show us that harrowing experience and heroism, seemingly small scale in their films, can be writ in large and commanding script across the lives of ordinary people.

Shi Xiangsheng's script is a rural fable based on his own story set in remote China, Hebei - the dry high plains, an undoubtedly stiffening existence. It's shot as beautifully as any of Zhang's films - he's a deft colorist, one of the great painterly directors in cinema (see `Ju Dou' and `Raise the Red Lantern'). The children are crimson-cheeked with complexions warmed and toasted by the unfiltered sun - but they will surely, eventually become worn and parched like their elders, Teacher Gao and Mayor Tian. We see an honest poverty here in great detail. The film's camerawork lets every detail seep into us, allowing us to feel the film's atmospherics and making us thirst in its arid heat and dust. (When the 26 children share 2 cans of warm Coca Cola after a long and hard day, we, too, want to get in line for our sip.)

Thirteen-year-old Wei Minxhi is dragged along by Mayor Tian to the village' s ramshackle one-room schoolhouse to meet Teacher Gao. She is to become the school's substitute teacher for one month while Gao leaves to tend to his ailing mother. He can't in good conscience leave this child to shepherd his children but he is without a choice - it's the kind of hard rationalism that is part of everyday life here. Before leaving, he counsels her sternly and provisions her with only a ragged lesson book and one stick (and only one stick) of chalk for every day he will be gone. He shows her the narrow bed in the adjoining room that she will share with 3 boarding students.

Teacher Gao is an old man who has suffered a lot of dedicated and dictated poverty in order to improve the lot of his village's children. We come to know his commitment to his work even at this stage of his life when he warns her that conditions are hard in this village and that the vicissitudes of life weigh very heavily on the children here. When he says he has already lost 10 students you know he has felt the loss of every single one. He commands her to keep the body of his school together and that when he returns, he wants to see every one of his students present - and not one less.

`Not One Less' is about young Teacher Wei's struggle to meet his simple challenge. We see immediately that she has more reluctance than skill or gumption for this task. But in a culture that expects obedience, she has no recourse. And nowhere else to go. She is more like a sullen older sister than a teacher. And because they are children, the students begin to test her a little. They aren't bratty kids, just rambunctious and resistant to the discipline of schoolwork. She hasn't a clue about how to make them work, so she just writes the lesson on the board and posts herself against the door, barring any escape. Her handwriting is neat and orderly but as the film progresses, we come to see that Teacher Wei is only a little more schooled than her charges.

The great thing about `Not One Less' is its unstinting perspective on the innocence and naiveté that only a child lives in. Teacher Wei and these children are completely guileless, without a window on the wide world, and have none of the knowledge or calculation for the simplest complexities of modern life. The film's crisis is that the class troublemaker, eleven-year-old bumpkin Zhang Huike, leaves unannounced for the city so he can earn money for his destitute family. Wei feels the absolute fear of her failure to keep her pledge and is desperate to go and find young Zhang. Figuring out how to get to the city to find him - for her and these children, it might as well be a search for the Holy Grail. It seems as fraught with myth and legend. Yet she, in her naiveté, is undaunted. Many schemes are attempted and when each fails, she just begins walking, having no idea how far it is or how long it will take her or what lies ahead when she gets there. She just knows she must find him.

Her journey is the quest of her young life just as Alvin Straight's is the culminating quest of his life. It is a defining act for both. There are no earth-shattering twists of plot to keep from you. It is the unfolding of a redemptive story, a boldly honest portrait of a world away from our experience and a young girl's attempt to navigate it with all her will and perseverance and naiveté - and only that - to sustain her. In the end, we feel we have been somewhere we've never been before and, perhaps, learned something that we had long forgotten. It is the singular power of cinema to transport us this way, to jack us directly into a net of experience we can feel so deeply in our hearts.
38 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A quasi-realistic fairy tale of modern China
Dennis Littrell3 March 2004
Wei Minzhi (played by Wei Minzhi, essentially playing herself) is a 13-year-old peasant girl pressed into being "Teacher Wei" at a small rural elementary school when the regular teacher must take a month off. She knows one song (a Maoist propaganda song) and that not very well. She hasn't a clue about how to manage a classroom. Her arithmetic is suspect and her people skills are those of a self-centered beginner. It's not even clear that she wants to do the job. In fact she seems more concerned about the 50 yuan she's supposed to get than anything else.

Thus acclaimed Chinese film maker Zhang Yimou sets the stage for a most compelling fairy tale which illustrates how the determined spirit of a little girl might triumph over poverty, ignorance, and the hard-headed reality of the post-Maoist bureaucratic society.

And is she determined! She is given 30 pieces of chalk and warned not to waste any of it. The lesson plans are to copy some lessons on the chalkboard and to get the students to copy the copy. That's it! Both the regular teacher and the town's mayor point to the other as the one who will pay her. When the regular teacher starts to leave without paying her, she chases after him. She is told she will get paid when he returns, and if all the students are still enrolled, she will get a ten-yuan bonus.

Thus we have the movie's title and the source of "Teacher Wei's" determination. When one little girl is picked to go to a sports camp because she can run, Wei hides her from the authorities. When Zhang Huike, the class trouble-maker (played by Zhang Huike), quits school and heads for the city to find work, Wei schemes ways to get him and bring him back.

At this point the magic begins. With this common goal both teacher and the kids figure out ways to raise money to send Wei by bus to the city and back.

They figure the cost for Wei's round trip and for Zhang Huike's one-way trip back, with the kids themselves taking the initiative at the chalkboard with the math. Wei makes them empty their pocketbooks, and when there is not enough she takes them on a field trip to a brick-making factory and together they move bricks to raise the cash. Again they calculate how many bricks they must move at so many "cents" per brick.

I mention all this because what is demonstrated, by the by, is some real teaching and learning taking place. In fact the mayor comes by and peeks into the classroom and is delighted to see that the substitute teacher knows how to teach math!

This sequence of events is very moving and is at the heart of the film. Any teacher anywhere in the world will recognize how brilliantly this is done. The kids become so eager to learn that they learn effortlessly, which is the way it is supposed to be. Furthermore, one of the phenomena of the profession is exemplified: that of the real teacher learning more (partly because she is older) than the students from the lessons they encounter.

Now, it is true that director Zhang Yimou does not show us the real poverty that exists in China nor does he point to the horrid dangers encountered by children who go to the city to work. Neither the little boy nor Teacher Wei is preyed upon in the manner we might fear. Recapitulations of the baser instincts of human beings are not part of Zhang Yimou's purpose here. This is in fact a movie that can be viewed by children, who will, I suspect, identify very strongly with the story. Zhang Yimou is talking to the child in all of us and he does it without preaching or through any didactic manipulation of adult verses child values. It is true he does manipulate our hearts to some degree, but with all the ugliness that one sees in the world today, perhaps he can be allowed this indulgence.

Although I would not say that this film is as good as Zhang Yimou's internationally celebrated films such as Red Sorghum (1987) (his first film) or Raise the Red Lantern (1991) (which I think is his best film) or The Story of Qiu Ju (1991) (which this film resembles to some extent), it is nonetheless a fine work of art exemplifying Zhang Yimou's beautiful and graceful style and his deep love for his characters and their struggles. And as always his work rises above and exists in a place outside of political propaganda as does the work of all great artists.

Perhaps more than anything else, however, one should see this movie to delight in the unselfconscious, natural, and utterly convincing "amateur" performance by Wei Minzhi as a most determined and brave little girl. She will win your heart.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
33 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A gentle and involving film that touches the heart
Howard Schumann23 September 2002
Not One Less (1999), directed by Zhang Yimou (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad) is a bittersweet drama set in a poor public school in the remote Chinese village of Shuiquan in Hebei province. Based on a book by screenwriter Shi Xiangsheng, who worked as a schoolteacher in Xinjiang, Not One Less illuminates the conditions of children in rural China who have little access to education and are without schoolbooks or teachers with drive or experience.

As the film opens, the regular teacher (Gao Enman) must leave the school to take care of his sick mother and a 13-year old peasant girl (Wei Minzhi) with no previous teaching experience is hired by the Mayor to become the substitute teacher for one month. Teacher Gao, already upset by the number of students who have left the school, tells Wei that when he comes back the number of students must be "not one less". Wei, concerned about receiving her pay of 50 yuan, promises that no student will leave while she is there. The young teacher must control and teach 28 students, most just a few years younger than her. With little resources other than a few boxes of chalk, Wei can do little else than have the children copy an assignment from the blackboard while she sits outside the door to prevent them from leaving.

Teacher Wei runs into difficulty in keeping her promise to Gao when one student is recruited to go to a special sports school. Another student, a bright but mischievous 11-year old, Zhang Huike, is also taken out of school to find work in the city of Jiangjiaou to help his family's finances. The story takes a sharp turn when Wei, determined not to lose any more students, makes plans to raise money to go to the city to find Zhang and bring him back to school. The process of finding the money to allow her to take the bus to the city enables Wei to teach the eager students by constructing real-life problems in simple mathematics.

When Zhang gets lost in the city and lives on the streets, scavenging for food, Wei must summon all her inner resources to try to find him. The scenes in the city use hidden cameras during Wei's interactions with crowds to create a semi-documentary style that reminded me of recent Iranian films that blend fact and fiction. In the process of looking for Zhang, the naive girl from the countryside encounters bewildering obstacles and bureaucratic bungling that are reminiscent of an earlier Zhang Yimou film, "The Story of Qui Ju". At first, Wei's motives in finding Zhang are to make sure she gets paid when Gao returns. However, she soon develops a true affection for Zhang and the result is a desperate search that will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride.

While Not One Less is specifically about economic conditions in rural China, the appealing innocence of the nonprofessional actors (who used their real names to add authenticity to their performance) gives the film a direct emotional appeal that is universal. It may lack the scope and dramatics of earlier Yimou works, but Not One Less is a gentle and involving film that truly touches the heart.
21 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Amateurs Present Good, Simple Story
ccthemovieman-115 March 2006
There isn't much to this story, I but I still liked it. The lead character, played by Wei Minzhi, is supposed to be playing a 13-year-old girl and was really interesting to watch, as were the young students and some of the other people in this film.

Oddly, all these actors were amateurs, real-life students and people of varied professions. It's nicely filmed, too, despite the bleak background many times. I find the dialog of many Chinese films to be very pleasing. Yes, there is a lot of receptiveness, at least in the translations, but it's tolerable. There is very little profanity and plenty of good old-fashioned values and feelings of people, simply told. You don't find much of this is in modern-day movies of the Western World. The colors in here - the reds, yellows and oranges - are always a treat for the eyes and the Asian kids' faces are intriguing.

This film is very different from anything Western audiences are used to, but I recommend it for those who realize that fact and are okay with it.
16 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Literally determination personified - Even one cannot be less
This is the depiction of a true story with the two lead characters performed by the actual person: Wei Minzhi, 13 year old young girl who is a substitute for the village teacher, and Zhang Huike, 11 year old young boy who left school to go to the city to find work to pay for family debt.

It is DERTERMINATION personified. She is one young lady who's not worried about her looks or other people's criticism. She is truly one track minded to find the lost student and to bring him home back to the village, and does not care if others are curt with her, or impolite; she's just very focused on achieving what she came to the city for - to get Zhang Huike back to the village school - no matter what it takes!

Simple setting. Poor village, city hustles. Children interactions/reactions are always a joy to watch. Lead character is devoid of guile and her stubborn determination is direct and innocent. The hesitation in her speech, her pause and silence held her own. Her performance is guileless - plainly so - that's how precious the performance is. An occasional smile is not easy to detect, as she is so engrossed in her mission; the continuous smile towards the end is well earned. There is magic after all.

This is a rare gem from director Zhang Yimou, quite a different flavor from his film collaborations with heaven-sent leading lady Gong Li.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
young girl may be acting less out of altruism than self interest but our eyes do not leave her
christopher-underwood17 March 2008
I suppose 'heart warming' are the first words that come to mind but lest that put anyone off, I have to say that it is the way Mr Zhang involves us from the very beginning that is the reason for the film's success. Beautifully shot with some wonderful natural light, our first glimpse of the rural backwater is astonishing. Almost immediately though we are drawn into a drama involving a thirteen year old girl being put in charge of a school of youngsters. The usual teacher has to visit sick relatives for a month and he leaves the girl behind with specific instructions to keep the schoolchildren from leaving school. Hence the film's title. Of course one goes missing and she follows to the city to try and find him, which becomes the story of the film. It is fascinating to see and believe the degree of poverty in the village and wonder as the children do at the difficulty of surviving in either place. The young girl may be acting less out of altruism than self interest but our eyes do not leave her and her concerns are ours. Seemingly non professional cast do a magnificent job, which must in no small part be down to Zhang, but then nobody seems to put a foot wrong. Excellent.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A marvelous neo-realist Chinese film for family viewing
Jugu Abraham15 February 2007
Long after De Sica made "Bicycle thief" and Fellini his "La Strada," neo-realist traditions grab me like no other in cinema history. The Chinese film "Not one less" made half a century after the Italian masterpieces, underlines several aspects of neo-realist traditions—non-actors can transform into great actors provided you have an intelligent script and a talented director, poverty attracts anyone with a conscience, the candid camera is a marvelous tool, and human values exist to be appreciated irrespective of national boundaries. It truly deserved the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival.

A reluctant substitute teacher taking on a job that would fetch a doubtful "50 yuan" from a village mayor with questionable priorities transforms into a national hero in less than a month as she strives hard to ensure the number of her students do not dwindle until the regular teacher returns. Her resolutions transforms the economic state of the school, makes her students into socially responsible "young adults" and teaches a lesson to the wily mayor, a gatekeeper in the city TV station who goes by rules rather than by her discretion.

The brilliance of the film is that the film hooks the audience as a thriller would until the film ends. Yet there is no sex, no violence, no beautiful face, no delightful music or engaging camera angles—only reactions caught by candid camera (at least most of the time).

The most poignant comment was the young student's comment "I loved the city but it made me beg for food" For a contemporary Chinese film made under tight censorship—the film's director Yimou Zhang seems to offer layers of comment beyond the obvious story line. Did Teacher Wei do what she did for the sake of money or as a responsible teacher? Are you likely to forget propagandist songs but recall simple songs on family values? Are individual greatness (teacher Wei) more appreciated than group actions (school as a group, nation's need for good athletes overriding permission of the parents of potential athletes)? Is the richness of rural lifestyles discounted by rising urban materialism? Does it require an individual's actions to underline the demands of the rural poor? These are hidden questions for each viewer to answer.

I have only seen one other film of director Yimou Zhang and that is "Red Sorghum". "Not one less" towers over "Red Sorghum" in every department of film-making.

I saw this Chinese film on an Indian TV channel. I only wish more such international films get shown widely on TV throughout the world. It would raise the bar of what constitutes good cinema to many who currently have little idea of good cinema except those made in their own countries. Recent mainland Chinese films like "Peacock" and "Not one less" have established their world class credentials.

P.S. I was more than amused to find Ford and Coca-Cola financed the film in part, which is probably why the school kids in a remote Chinese village know about Coke and relish rationed drops of the liquid. Who was pulling whose leg here???
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
To Wei, With Love
ccasey-115 July 2006
A true story, or not? It doesn't matter. This is such a brilliant movie on so many levels its hard to recount them all.

This is a great movie for just about anybody. It gets better if you like a story that features an un-compromising, absolutely determined female child in the lead role. But its even better if you happen to have had a teacher in your life you endeared, or are a teacher and have had a favorite pupil. It gets better if you're a father looking for a strong role model for your daughter. Its better still if you have Chinese ancestry in your family. It gets better if you have an interest in learning more about the daily conditions of modern-day rural and urban China, delivered via a master cinematographer. It gets better if you think education occurs best when children take an active role in lessons situated in a context meaningful to them (see the math lessons in the movie). And finally, if you are many of these, there's a message at the top of the credit roll that will either break your heart or confirm your knowledge of the relentless unfairness of the human condition.

On top of all this, the movie is littered with priceless vignettes: the children writing single-character calligraphy on the chalk board; the misbehaving students and the absent teacher; the dedicated teacher who will stand for two days at the security gate asking every passerby if they are the "general manager"; the famished child waif guiltily but aggressively eating someone's leftover dinner from the tabletop of a street-side café; the pervasive role of money on life's most basic pursuits.

This movie has the emotion of "To Sir, with Love" and the honesty of Himalaya.

Yimou Zhang doesn't just use actresses and actors to portray the parts; he uses the real thing, culling the mayor, students, and teachers from rural villages, the television station manager, the restaurateur from the city, etc. How he manages to capture these people in the natural presentations of their characters is impressive. The performances were so convincing I marveled at their exquisite, authentic qualities. I kept asking myself "how did these actresses and actors nail their parts so well?" When the credits rolled the secret was revealed.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
One More About Real Life
lildovefeather25 November 2005
This is also a well-received and well-applauded film in the international scene. Not surprising for it is a film directed by the same man who gave us Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, and Zhang Ziyi (via The Road Home, which I have yet to see) - Zhang Yimou.

Based on "There is a Sun in the Sky" by Shi Xiang Sheng, who also wrote the screenplay, the story tells about a young girl who actually represents China's poor and practically illiterate sector. Oh, but that's getting ahead of the story.

In the movie, Wei Min Zhi, young and barely out of her teens, is given the task to substitute for the very dedicated Teacher Gao at the Shiuxian Village's school in Beijing. Having big and understandable doubts, Teacher Gao still hands over the reins to her for a while as he is left with no choice. It being a job, Wei asks for payment. They argue until they both agree to a decision, that he will make sure she gets paid provided that in his absence, no student leaves schooling to work, not one less. Wei intends to keep this promise, a promise that eventually becomes threatened when one of the students runs away.

It is obvious that Not One Less is a movie intended to serve as an eye-opener and does not pretend to be anything else. It touches on issues such as poverty, child labor and illiteracy. It is realistic enough as who are we to say that a situation such as Wei?s does not exist? While you maybe amused by the story from time to time, you can?t help but feel pity for the characters. Imagine a 13-year-old kid forced by the need to earn and teach other kids almost her own age. I winced between chuckles as Wei struggled to find the right words for the only song she claimed she knew, the right answers to simple mathematics, and the right way to find the missing boy in the jungle called The City.

The story is told in quite a simple manner. No music, no flairs and, save for one - Li Fan Fan - no real celebrities. Read the credits and you?ll soon realize that none of the cast, whether main or not, were real actors. In fact, everyone used his/her own name! Wei Min Zhi was actually a student from Zhenlingbao Village Middle School. Trouble-maker Zhang Huike was actually also another student from another school. Teacher Gao (Gao Enman) was a real primary school teacher. Though the story was not based on a particular and actual person's life, the cast played their own roles, from the young runner-athlete to the village mayor to the TV anchor.

There is no great acting. I must say the better. Raw acting can sometimes make everything more believable. Watch it and you'll see what I mean. Heck, it's like seeing a familiar situation in my country's own backyard! A plus for Zhang Huike?s infectious smile. But even that, I missed the first time I saw him cry and in this particular scene:

Li Fan Fan: Do you like the city? Zhang Huike: Yes. Li Fan Fan: What is good about it? Zhang Huike: The city is beautiful and progressive. Much better than the countryside. Li Fan Fan: What?s the most lasting impression? Zhang Huike (pauses and the smile fades): That I had to beg for food. I will always remember that.

So if you feel you can break away from all the hi-tech, gory and adrenaline-rushing flicks, opt for a simple and realistic story. Here it is and don't expect any butt-kicking Wei Min Zhi anytime soon. Just isn't going to happen.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Everyoine gets a sip
Meganeguard11 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Director: Zhang Yimou Duration: 108 minutes

I have been a fan of Zhang Yimou since 1999 when I watched his amazing film _Raise the Red Lantern_ for the first time in my East Asian Novel class. I have since had the pleasure of watching _The Road Home_, _Happy Times_, and _The Story of Qiu Ju_. Similar to Hou Jianqi's _Postmen in the Mountain_ and a number of the films mentioned above, _Not One Less_ depicts the natural beauty of rural China next to the abject poverty in which quite a number of farmer families live.

The film begins simply enough with the mayor tugging along the pretty, slim Wei Minzhi who has been hired by the village to teach in the place of an older teacher who must leave town in order to look after his sick mother. Minzhi does not bring much to the table, however, because she is only able to sing one song in praise of Mao and her teaching ability seems to be limited to copying information on the board and then ordering her students to copy what she has written. Also, did I mention the fact that Minzhi is thirteen years old?

Minzhi was hired because she was the only one willing to work in the little bumpkin village. Of course because of her age she is not only taken advantage of by her students, but the mayor as well who tries to swindle his way out of paying the young woman fifty yuan, around maybe twenty dollars for a month's work. However, when Minzhi is offered an extra ten yuan by the old teacher if she is able to keep all of her students during the month, Minzhi becomes determined to keep all of her students in place. However, one soon joins a school specializing in sports and another leaves for the city to support his sick mother.

Like Yang Zhang's film _Quitting_, all of the actors, all non-professional, play themselves. Filming is still highly censored in China, so Zhang Yimou had to veneer the true messages of the film. So under that happy ending and bubbly children, this is a serious social critique which needs to be seen to be appreciated.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A compelling reality
cwx19 July 2006
Surprisingly, I never lost my patience or got bored while watching this, even though it is very slow, understated film in which there is a great deal of repetition and very little character development. Zhang Yimou takes us along with a 13-year-old substitute teacher, played, like the other characters, by a nonprofessional actor (the credits even tell you where each person comes from, and that most of them actually do the jobs in real life that we see them doing here).

It is fascinating to see the bonds develop between the teacher and her students almost without anyone trying. The film barely even seems like it needs a "quest," but when one develops, the teacher's plight is even more poignant. I will say that I'm not sure I got any great insights into the problem of "poverty in rural China," but the mindset of the characters as Zhang shows them – obstinate and determined – was quite captivating.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
current social problem, poor quality of education in the villages is cleverly linked in to a proper story.
gangadhar panday16 June 2006
An excellent movie. Hats off to the director Yimou Zhang for getting wonderful performances from non professional actors. The way a burning social problem, effects of poverty on the education system and poor children, is interestingly woven into a story and captivating plot structure. The substitute village teacher, Minzhi Wei, a 13 years old girl, wants to buy a round trip to the city by bus from her workplace to fetch a missing student and does not have money. She succeeds in convincing the whole class to do labour,carrying bricks, to mobilize money. The ensuing mathematical calculations in the class and on the black board add to the school goings on while touching the emotional chords of the audience. The teacher's struggle in the city to trace out the student, her stubborn 'never say quit' attitude form part of the later half of the film that ends on a positive note by bringing the problem of education into focus. The contrast in the village and urban life styles is well brought out. some scenes that impressed me strongly are: the teacher running after the van carrying a student. argument by the teacher and students with the brick kiln owner. teacher's walk to the city. the writing of posters by the teacher and the posters being swept away while the teacher is asleep. the innocent enquiries of the teacher at the TV Station entrance. the broadcast talk of the teacher addressed to the student. the joy of the students when they get lots of colorful chalk.

a must watch for all the socially aware citizens of the world.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Tribute to Human Spirit
danstephan300014 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
At the Honolulu International Film Festival in 2001 I was able to ask several Asian film directors about which new films they recommended. Two especially admired 'Not One Less.' After seeing it, I completely agree with their recommendations and with praise by A.O. Scott and other film critics.

Zhang Yimou had earlier taken us with equal impact into the lives and struggles of Chinese villagers in 'Story of Qiu Ju.'. but 'Not One Less' takes place long after Premier Deng had 'broken the iron rice bowl' and left poor rural people in China to find their own way. The village school where 13 year old Wei is hired as a teacher cannot even afford to buy chalk. It certainly cannot hire an adult to teach the large group of children in one classroom.

At first, her efforts seem hopeless. Yet, she won't give up. At the end, she succeeds in holding the class together. Anyone who has ever tried to teach children will find deep satisfaction at the end, when her students finally start to learn. For all of us, 'Not One Less' is a tribute to the human spirit.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A quiet simple gem
gannett14 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A simple film with a linear narrative which reminds us of the complexity of modern life. Looking into this tale from the urban world reminds us that life is so very different elsewhere.

Set in China but the themes could be matched to many places in the developing world. Rural v Urban, Poverty v Prosperity, the contrast is stark. It's a scary place looking for a lost boy in a strange city when you could so easily become lost yourself. The teacher struggles through grasping at one straw after another finally by determination and a bit of luck over achieves her goal.

The happy outcome has a moralising whiff, good values will win in the end, unfortunately this tends not to happen so often in the real world.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Movie with a message
pvernezze23 September 2007
I am generally not a big fan of movies made only to send a message, tending to agree with the Hollywood director who famously said, If you want to send a message, go to Western Union. And make no doubt about it: this is a message movie. And in case you might miss the message, the director flashes it across the screen at the end. That said, this is a beautiful and heart warming story about an aspect of Chinese culture one generally does not hear much about in the West: the situation at rural schools. As Zhang Yimou lets us know at the end, more than one million students drop out of schools in rural China because of poverty. From what I understand, this is a pretty accurate picture of the situation in many places in the Chinese countryside. Forget about having a computer in the classroom; this place has to worry about having enough chalk. To add to the authenticity, Zhang Yimou used real people from the Chinese countryside to play the roles (although to clear up one misperception, this is not a true story). It is certainly a different China than the economic superpower we hear about in the news. But for anyone wishing to get a more complete picture of China, this film provides a vivid depiction of the plight of rural schools in a very moving if somewhat contrived story and is highly recommended.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Teach your children well
george.schmidt27 April 2004
NOT ONE LESS (2000) *** World renowned Chinese filmmaker

Zhang Yimou's strong story telling skills come through evocatively

with an almost documentary like account of a teenage substitute

teacher (Wei Minzhi as herself) whose green tactics are put to the

tests of many endurances – spiritually, emotionally, physically –

while working as an assigned primary school teacher in a small

impoverished modern-day village and embarks on a soul-searching odyssey when one of her rebellious and obnoxious young charges is forced to move away from his family

to forced labor to work off his familial debts. What makes the film

unique is the way its humanity overspills in simplified yet

compelling terms of matter-of-factness without pandering or

plucking the audiences' emotions for cheap sentiment, but rather

of just how well off many nations truly are.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Storytelling par excellence...
poe4265 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
There are movies whose stories are so compelling that one can't help but wax enthusiastic: RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES, TOGETHER, WHY HAS BODHI-DHARMA LEFT FOR THE EAST?, THE WAY HOME, RAISE THE RED LANTERN, THE ROAD HOME, MADADAYO, I LIVE IN FEAR, FOR THE CHILDREN, BAREFOOT GEN (both), GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, FROZEN, JU-DOU, IN THIS WORLD... The list sometimes seems endless (although it unfortunately isn't). NOT ONE LESS will wring you dry. The tearful ending is at once heartbreaking and uplifting. Like the very best of the very best movies, this one works like a magic spell from beginning to end. I can't recommend it highly enough.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Unusual (and great) film from Zhang Yimou
Andres Salama10 June 2007
Somewhat didactic and sentimental, this film from Zhang Yimou is nevertheless irresistible. An unusual foray from Zhang into realistic films, Not One Less tells the tale of a young teenager in a Chinese village who is named as substitute teacher in the local school when the head teacher has to visit his ailing mother. Her skills as a teacher are barely adequate, and her students are just a few years younger than she is, yet she makes up her obvious shortcomings as a teacher with an utmost zeal in accomplishing her mission. Her superior has told her that not one of her students must drop out of school, so when one of the more trouble making boys heads to the big city in order to support his starving family, she has to go there to get him back. The movie is refreshingly sincere in stating that she does not search the boy out of a sense of social concern, but because of money, since she won't receive any bonus if any of her students are missing. The best part of the movie shows the naive teacher trying to find her lost student in the urban jungle of the city. Shot with a wonderful amateur cast, this look at rural China is beguiling.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Hollywood doesn't rules
Mauro Castaldi (kastaldi)2 September 2003
This excellent movie, such as the iranian "Sib", also know as "The apple" or "La mela", demonstrates once again that a good story is ten thousands times better than a good special effect, much better than many multi million dollars productions. Foreign movies like this (and foreign cultures) are amazing because they show the real life, much different from the american or european style, and tell about real problems from their point of view.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A Lesson in Humility.
Python Hyena16 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Not One Less (1999): Dir: Zhang Yimou / Cast: Wei Minzhi, Gao Enman, Zhang Huike, Tian Zhenda, Sun Zhimei: Sweet foreign film that relates to the Biblical parable of the lost sheep by emphasizing the importance of a single human life. Set in a poverty stricken village where a teacher leaves town for a month leaving the children in the care of thirteen year old Wei Minzhi. She accepts the task but realizes its challenge too late when a particular misbehaving kid is pulled out of school for employment purposes Wei decides to track him down. One aspect that doesn't work is her using the kids to assist in raising money. Directed with great passion by Zhang Yimou who previously made the acclaim Raise the Red Lantern and the poorly received Shanghai Triad. Minzhi does a wonderful job displaying her frustration yet care as she struggles to do the task asked of her right down to finding one kid. Gao Enman plays the understanding teacher seen briefly but the role is pivotal. Zhang Huike plays the kid gone missing who will learn that growing up too fast is harmful, and that others do care. Tian Zhenda plays the Mayor. Sun Zhimei plays a middle school student who assist in the search in the confusing city streets. Well crafted film with great location shots. It is a touching film about taking time to care and risking much for the better of another. Score: 9 / 10
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews