China Moving Forward as One
As was pointed out during our class discussion of "Not One Less," the cultural theme of China moving towards modernity is the major theme of this film. No symbol in the film illustrates the rural side of this theme more to me than the chalk does. When Teacher Gao leaves to take care of his ailing mother, he specifically instructs Wei Minzhi to use only 28 pieces of chalk, one for each day that he will be absent. This scene shows the poverty that pervades in the rural areas of China and the conservation they must have for everything. The chalk represents all that the class has as far as supplies are concerned, as Teacher Gao was forced to spend his entire budget on chalk.
In an earlier scene, there is an altercation at the front of the classroom, and a good portion of the chalk that Teacher Goa left for Wei is crushed during the disturbance. The only person that notices what happens is a little girl in the class who screams out: "You're crushing the chalk, you're crushing the chalk!" By crushing the chalk, Teacher Wei must now use very, very small bits to write the lessons on the board. Teach Wei learns a lesson her that every piece of chalk is important as the class cannot afford to have one piece less.
Later on in the film, Wei finds herself in the city looking for Zhang Huike, a boy from her class who was forced to drop out of school and work in the city to raise money for his poverty stricken family. The city, of course, is very crowded and everyone seems to be in a hurry. Wei really sticks out in the city. At points it almost seemed as if she was moving in slow motion compared to the people around her. Wei's methods for communicating a message to the masses included making flyers, which was seen as a complete waste of time by the city dweller that suggests that she go to the television station. She always walked while the city dwellers drove. She has no money in contrast to the large buildings and modernesque city lights that we see around her. She (and Zhang Huike as well) is hungry, while we constantly see shots of food and marketplaces. She had no ID and no admittance to the TV station, while we see many city dwellers move in and out of the station gates with no problem. All of these observations are examples that show the contrast between the ��haves�� and the ��have-nots." We can see the modernity and wealth flowing into urban China, while rural China is left behind in poverty.
The picture that I have described above is almost one of two Chinas��the rich, and the poor. However, at the end of the film the director Zhang Yimou brings the ��two Chinas�� together through the symbol of chalk. After Teacher Wei returns to the village, we see her and her class assembled in the classroom with boxes and boxes of chalk, donated to them by city residents who saw Wei on the television demonstrating the plight of the rural school. The urbanities have donated colored chalk to these rural students, which is a modern product in their eyes replacing the plain old white chalk. We then see Teacher Wei handling the chalk very respectfully, conscious of the lesson she learned earlier that every little bit counts. Each student is allowed one piece of colored chalk to write or draw a word on the board of their choosing. The children write ��sky," "happiness,"��water,��and ��diligence.��A little girl who is unable to write draws a picture of a flower. Zhang's point here is that while China's modernity is a good thing, it is important not to leave anyone behind. Just as the city dwellers donated the chalk to the rural school, all Chinese citizens must be careful to move into the modern age as one China.
One More Donation
Not One Less is a film created to stir up sympathy for rural schools.
The goal was to expose the situation of the rural schools in an attempt
to gain support from the rich city people. In order to do this the film
was made to seem very real. The "actors" were real country people,
the children students and so on. They were meant to seem impoverished
and pathetic. There were scenes in which the students were shown sleeping
in the schoolhouse on tables or crowded into one bed. The entire premise
of the story is based on the fact that the only person who could replace
the normal school teacher is a thirteen-year-old girl who has only been
through grade school. She does not know much and cares even less. The
rural mayor offers money as a way to keep everything running well. He
values the community but it makes him corrupt as he bribes children to
get information. On the other hand by making every city character money-grabbing
with an agenda the film director is pointing a finger at the modern city
people. Exposing the inadequacies of modern life and making them feel
guilty so that they will support the rural schools.
There is a major theme of rural life versus modernity throughout the film. Neither the rural village nor city is shown as better or perfect. There is an emphasis on them both being part of a whole and so needing to help each other. The rural village is shown as impoverished and in need of help from the city people. At the end there is even a suggestive example of how much the city people can help. The television show galvanizes the people to donate school supplies such as chalk to the school in Shuiquan village. The children are excited and are suddenly interested in the characters that they hardly paid attention to before. The story also suggests that if one girl can go through such an ordeal to help one boy then it is everyone else's duty to do their part as well. The film seems to have been a success since there is now a foundation��Hope Project��to help millions of rural children portrayed in this film.
The Length of Time
Zhang Yimou's film Not One Less loses some of its hopeful and inspirational themes when the scenes are too lengthy, and drawn out. As soon as the movie begins, a majority of the movie is spent on the framing of intelligent scenes instead of developing the story line. The story of a young substitute overcoming the boundaries of poverty and educational limitations could not be totally successful because the storyline was not fully developed. Not One Less loses its theme of growth and absolute poverty when Zhang spends too much time trying to be artistic.
The movie follows the growth of a substitute teacher. The young teacher, Wei Minzhi, represents the poverty of the village because they cannot afford an older more experienced teacher. Although she is naive and has trouble becoming a good teacher, Zhang spends too much time on her being a bad and incompetent teacher. The change from a distant to a good teacher in contrast is so sudden that it gets lost in the length of the previous relationship to her students. Time in a movie is precious and the director needs to make the most of the time given to him. If too much attention is given to unimportant details, the overall meaning of the scene can be lost. Wei Minhzhi��s transformation into a good person is lost on the over-emphasis of her being a bad teacher.
It takes Wei a long time to learn how to teach her students. While it is an arduous process to become a teacher in real time, three or four scenes in a movie should not be spent on this development, especially when the movie is not about her teaching style. When the end of the movie is about her dedication to her students, it is not useful to show how wrong her initial teaching was. Although Zhang does spend time showing she can teach, the moment is lost in the shadow of her bad teaching. Her maturation into a good teacher, the essential theme the movie makes, is drowned out by the length of time spent on her bad qualities.
Perhaps the most pivotal scene was when Wei ventures into the city to
bring back the student, which disappears in the length of the scene. What
felt like fifteen minutes was spent on her search for the TV station manager
who never shows up. While it is an emotionally straining sequence, because
Zhang spent so much time on an essentially empty screen, he loses the
point of the scene. He made the conscious decision to show how every man
coming out of the TV station with the glasses, over twenty, takes away
from her worry over the student, he loses meaning with the emphasis and
eventually disappointment over this man. He never shows up, as it almost
seems pointless that she wanted so long. And when she continues to search
for him, her search become tiring. When she does find the boy, the only
satisfaction is in the ending of a very long scene.
Traditions of Obedience and Their Impact
When teacher Gao charges wei with the task of keeping all of his students at the school until he comes back, a contract has been agreed between the two parties. In the film, many difficult decisions are made, all of which reflect Wei's need to abide by her teacher, conforming to the Chinese tradition of obedience to one's elder, country, etc. However, in order to fulfill promises, hard rationalism reflecting the difficult decisions that must be made compose the film and draw the viewer into the conflicting world surrounding this rural school. The choices made ultimately display Wei's self-realization of her past naivet�� and the wisdom she can find in others to help her on her life's journey.
The first decision made is by Gao. It is his duty to care for his ailing
mother, but to do so, he must leave the essence of his life, his children,
in the hands of a naive young girl not much older than those she must
teach. Gao realizes he doesn't have much of a choice and at least has
Wei to keep an eye on the kids. The new deal that is made, however, requires
that Wei not lose any of the children during the month of his absence.
He agrees to pay her an extra 10 Yuan if she succeeds, and she gladly
accepts. At this point, the viewer looks at Wei as a ��money-hungry�� child.
However, her determination and [the] challenges she faces to spoil her
plan seem to prove otherwise. When the first child is taken away to train
in athletic events, she herself runs a great distance and tries to hide
the kid to stop her leaving. When the second child, Zhang Huike disappears
to go work in the city, she tries even harder to retrieve him, even though
one would think the original deal was off. At this point, it is no longer
about the money, but rather upholding her promise to Teacher Gao. In her
process of retrieving the young boy, she and her class become students
in the ways of the world. Once she makes the decision to get Zhang back,
there is nothing that can stop her. After her plans to get to the city
by bus were repeatedly thwarted, she walks. Once again, a controversial
decision was made. To find Zhang, she must leave the children unattended.
Though daunted by the busy city life, she still continues on her quest.
With the help of other ��street-smart�� people (man in the bus station,
television manager), she is finally reunited with the child who also had
to rely on the kindness of strangers to help him through his ordeal.
The Angels of The Primitive Countryside
The film "Not One Less," directed by Zhang Yimou, is a story about a naive but plucky adolescent teacher and her students in a Chinese rural village. It's a story about the education in poor villages of China. It's also a story about pride and hope. The kids in that poor countryside, including Wei Minzhi and her students, have their own pride and hopes as all we human beings. From their innocent eyes and the pure smiles in their dirty faces, we can see their pride, their eagerness and their hopes.
When Wei Minzhi and her students think they have a surplus of six yuan, they buy two cans of Coke and taste it in turn. We hear what they are saying: "My lip is numb." "It tastes strange." We see their cluttered hair, their dirty shirts, and the mud on their faces after moving the bricks. We can feel their eagerness. I think at that time all the audiences [the viewer] should have the same feeling of sympathy. However, I think the other point, the spirit of those kids, is the marrow of this film.
Wei Minzhi is immature; she is not well educated; she is a poor writer, and she is also so inexperienced that she is frustrated by the people in the city. But she is determined. Determination is her spirit, but the people in the city frustrate this spirit many times. Zhang Huike, the boy who goes to the city to find a job [in order to pay off] for his family��s loans, is obstinate. He never says sorry even though he knows he has been wrong. However, because of his hunger, such an obstinate boy has to beg food in the city. When the journalist asks him what he will remember forever, he answers it is that he has to beg food. Zhang Huike has a high pride; this is his spirit. However, the people in the city frustrate him as well. Even so, they do have their own pride and spirit. When they are singing the national anthem, they raise their hands over their heads; they sing as loudly as possible; they face the sunshine and narrow their eyes to watch the national flag rising. At that time, they are Chinese. They are not people in the countryside or in the city, but people in China.
The greatest thing in "Not One Less" is its unstinting perspective on the innocence and naivet�� that only the children in the primitive countryside live in. The girl with short hair always adds one more "0" when she is calculating; the youngest girl in class always cannot understand what she is supposed to do. Everyone has his or her own character and spirit. For me, the last scene is the most touching of this film. Finally, they had enough chalk, so they are able to write one character on the blackboard with the color chalk. All the characters they write have good, hopeful and pure meanings, such as ��sky,�� ��flower,�� ��diligent,�� ��rainbow,�� ��happiness,�� etc. Although they study under such poor conditions �� there is no money to buy a desk; they are frustrated by the people live [living] in the city; their life is hard �� they still keep their innocence and purity, and they still have hopes. They are lovely; they have a spirit that the people in the city never know. They are just like angels.
Modernist Details Clash with Primitivist Simplicity
In Not One Less my first impression of the main character, Wei Minzhi, was that she was unprepared for the job and that she was not a very smart person. As the movie progressed I understood why she had such trouble adjusting to the urban society into which she was thrown into in order to find her lost student.
When Wei Minzhi first entered the city she was used to a community that was primitive. In this primitive world from which she came, she was unaccustomed with the amount of details that play a critical part in the urban society. This was very evident in the scene where she was trying to gain access to the television station��s director. The concept of money is something that was not totally non-existent in the rural communities but it was not used to the same extent. She did not totally understand the meaning of money and how fast it can disappear. This attention to detail was also seen when the receptionist had to see a form of ID. Wei Minzhi really had to concept of the strict rules that make the city run. There was also the aspect of the speed of life in the city. In many scenes it looks as if Wei Minzhi cannot comprehend the pace of life. This is another example of the urban versus rural conflict.
It is this attention to detail in the urban modern environment that Zhang
Yimou is trying to parallel the two environments. The details of the modernist
environment are what separates the two styles of living, rural and urban.
In the cinematography, the differences are seen in the architecture of
the two different societies. In the rural environment the homes are simple,
and in the city the urban environment is sprawling with no end. This also
brings back the attention to detail that the city has. Every building
in the city is clearly marked, while the buildings in the rural environment
are unmarked. This simplistic way of living is what makes life in the
rural environment so different.
The film Not One Less at first struck me as film in which I would have a strong dislike for the main character Wei Minzhi, but looking back on the movie, her character as very rich. Some of the decisions that she made in the film, made the viewer cringe, but viewing the film as a whole made me realize that she was doing the best with what little knowledge she had. She was unfamiliar with the details that make up the intricate system of life in the city.
Small Chalk, Big Picture
Zhang Yimou's film Not One Less tends to focus on the little things in life. It demonstrates that even small things can be extremely important. This falls in line with the traditional Chinese belief that everything in nature exists in harmony. Everything is connected, everything contains meaning, and therefore everything, no matter how big or how small, is important. One very specific thing embodies this concept in Not One Less: the school's precious blackboard chalk.
Throughout the film, a great emphasis is placed on the importance of blackboard chalk. The students mainly learn by copying their lessons from the blackboard, so they treasure their chalk. It is a key to their education. Their old Teacher Gao preserved all donated money in order to purchase more chalk, and he taught each of his students to take good care of that chalk. To us in the western middle-class, chalk seems like something trivial. But to the impoverished children of rural China, chalk is something that is essential. Without chalk, these children would not receive the proper education they need to succeed in life. Instead, they would be doomed to live in poverty forever.
In one of the most moving scenes in the film, 13 year old substitute Teacher Wei Minzhi asks class troublemaker Zhang Huike to read aloud a female student��s private journal entry. In her journal, the young female student recalls a time when Zhang Huike knocked a new box of chalk off of the desk, spilling the chalk onto the floor. As punishment, inexperienced Teacher Wei drags him onto the floor and screams at him to pick up the chalk, crushing most of it into dust in the process.
The little girl expresses in her journal that she misses Teacher Gao, because he treasures their chalk, while Teacher Wei disregards its importance. As Zhang Huike reads this journal entry aloud to the class, many students become emotional, and some begin to cry. The tiniest broken pieces of chalk are important to them. Even when the chalk wears down to its last bits, the children use the dust on their fingers to finish a character on the blackboard.
Teacher Wei's bold quest to rescue one of her students from a troubled life in the city inspires dozens of city folk to donate their money to rural schools. Much of this money goes to buy boxes upon boxes of new chalk for Teacher Wei's school. Except this time, the chalk is brightly colored in blues, pinks, and yellows. This, in a way, is the film's happy ending. Both the students and Teacher Wei learn to respect and acknowledge even the smallest things as part of life's bigger picture. The many boxes of brightly colored chalk symbolize new hope for the future of rural Chinese education. This chalk goes to help impoverished children receive a balanced education that will eventually lead them out of poverty and into well-paying jobs and fruitful citizens, wherein lies the beauty of this little, low-budget film that has made such a huge impact on so many young lives in modern China.
To care more, then to gain more
The film No One Less begins at a small primary school named Shuiquan in a rural village, where the only teacher of the school has to be away for a month to tend to his ailing mother. Minzhi, a thirteen-year-old girl in a middle school, promised to be the substitute teacher of Shuiquan primary school for just 50 yuan. The only condition is that during her watch, no one can quit the school for any reasons. It can be said that this plot is a very common phenomenon in rural areas, but we can't deny that it is a successful film: it let us feel the beautiful and "unpolluted" characteristics of the peasants, and leads us to thinking seriously about the lack of education in these remote villages.
When I first saw Minzhi as a substitute teacher of Shuiquan primary school, I was shocked. Why did they find a child to teach the pupils? The reason also shocked me a lot: because this area is too remote and poor, no one can stand the hardships of being there for a whole month, even the other villagers, except Minzhi. She is the only person they can find to be a substitute teacher. It is the poverty that makes the school unable to afford a teacher, not to mention the lack of education. As crude and simple as the facilities are, this only classroom has to serve the students of all the grades. Minzhi is allowed to use one piece of chalk each day to copy a lot of lessons on the blackboard because there is only one textbook kept by the teacher. They have no bells, so they end the class by looking at the shadow of the sun. It seems that they still lead an original life, without any advanced techniques.
Although there are lots of difficulties, these children are still eager to learn. They know that being well-educated is the only way to get out of that poor area to have a better life. Minzhi, in order to earn that 50 yuan at first, who just copies the lessons on the blackboard and isn��t very concerned about what the students really learn each day, changes gradually. She no longer cares about how much she really can get, but tries her best to collect some money to go to the city to bring Zhang Huike back to the school. Zhang Huike was a student who dropped school and went to work in the city because of the poverty in his family. Minzhi is so hard-nosed to think about a lot of ways to find Huike, even she has to endure a lot of hardships. During the days in the city, she experienced hunger, poverty, lack of sleep and discrimination. Even though, she hasn't complained or given up. What she's worried about is where Huike is.
I was moved by the true love between Minzhi and her students. Although she's a child, too, she's performing her role well as a good and responsible teacher in front of these students she. Obviously, compared with some city folks, who are extremely cold to these villagers, Minzhi and her students' characteristics are very beautiful. They love and help each other selflessly even they can't afford a basic living themselves. Why shouldn't we learn something rewarding from them?
From my point of view, the title of this film tells us that while we put all our efforts developing the cities, we should never forget the remote villages. From one aspect, we should care more about the development in rural areas, especially good education. From the other aspect, it��s time to change our stereotypes about the impressions of the villagers, because they have many virtues for us to learn from. After caring more about these undeveloped areas and those children who are willing to get education, China can truly develop, and of course, we can eventually gain some virtues which we have already lost living in the cities.
Old Traditions and New Culture
Not One Less brings together the old way of life and modern change. The film is a story about transition and what is good and bad about change. Yimou Zhang gives for the viewer a narrative of simple relations, but it is the meaning and dynamics of this story that show us just what is China. There is a continuing theme that drives this narrative -- a young China finding a new age of modernity.
This narrative focuses around a young, curious and traditional village girl, however, this girl is the face of China. Wei Minzhi is what was China and what is China. The old village where she resides captures rural China. The depiction of Wei Minzhi in the village gives the audience the "old way." No doubt, viewers hail from the urban areas of China's newer cities, thus, there is a display of what was left in the villages. The school is full of youthful children whose dress might be their only possession. Supplies are scarce and the school is old. Still, the sense of community is there as the class acts as one large family, epitomizing China in a collective struggle to modernize itself.
Not until later in the movie does the full theme of the narrative come forth. When Zhang Huike runs off, Wei Minzhi starts her journey into the city, symbolic of China's push for modernity. We see the rural community work together in this effort, hard and united, as the kids move the bricks in order to buy a bus ticket for Wei to go into the city. The efforts of the children, symbolic of "the Chinese people," represent China's move to modernity. Then, when Wei Minzhi faces the daunting task of walking to the city, the viewer sees the old China struggle to reach the new.
When Wei Minzhi reaches the city she is lost and disoriented, the old confronting the new. Old China had values, spirit, and unity - the new China sacrifices the old, and does so for capitalism, for modernity, and for self-gain. China has urbanized very rapidly, in its haste to match other world powers, many of the unique pieces of Chinese history have faded away. Yimou Zhang shows us that the old China is falling behind the new China, and Chinese people are beginning to become polarized between the old and the new. Wei Minzhi's worry and determination to find her student is also a symbol of old and new. The old China included all, included the community and unity - the people. The new China promotes individualism.
Simultaneously as old meets new -- Wei Minzhi finds Zhang Huike - Yimou Zhang displays the thought: that maybe the old should not be forgotten. Suddenly, everyone knows Wei Minzhi's story and they help; yet this display of gratitude comes from pity. The old needs the new and the new is attracted to the old because of what is lost with modernity. The city people, many of whom have come from the villages, are nostalgic. They want what has been sacrificed for modernization, for capitalism and profit.
Yimou Zhang challenges us to critically look at the new China, and to reflect on the old. There is no future without the past. China is rich with history and tradition and the old way is severed from the new by the rapid urbanization and modernization of the new China. Not one less, might be, not all together.
A Message for China
A filmmaker applies many techniques to get his message across. He could use satire, parallel themes etc. Director Yimou Zhang applies imagery and several parallel themes to get his message across. Another important tool he utilizes is that of comparison. He compares situations, people and places to reach a conclusion that serves as a message to the masses.
The protagonist, Wei Minzhi, is portrayed as a representation of China. The Chinese national anthem, sung by the students in the beginning, is used to foreshadow her struggle in the journey. She embodies the essence of the anthem, which helps her emerge successful in the end. When Wei starts her journey, the viewer feels it is hopeless for her to go to the city where she has never been before and where she has to find one little boy among so many people. Her struggle becomes more rigorous after reaching there when she finds that there is nobody to help her without money and she would have to rely on herself if she wants to find the boy. None of her plans work and she fails repeatedly. Yet, she never gives up hope and is determined to find him no matter how many hurdles she has to go through. Director Zhang employs her struggle to justify the meaning of the national anthem. She survives the extreme struggle (without food, shelter or even hope!) because she followed exactly what the anthem had to say, i.e. never to give up hope even in the most difficult time and always be determined and move forward.
Zhang Yimou's message doesn't end with Wei Minzhi's struggle. He goes
on to depict his view of ideal China by relating places and people. In
the movie the little kid, Huike, causes a lot of troubles, which Minzhi
believes are unnecessary. She doesn't understand why he just can't behave
like other kinds in the class. Similarly, Minzhi causes lot of trouble
for the city people. The woman on the counter is frustrated by her endless
and unnecessary questions. She, like Minzhi, gets frustrated. But in the
end Minzhi ends up giving up everything she can to find Huike. In the
same way, the city people, mainly the stationmaster, do everything they
can to make sure that Minzhi finds Huike. In the end they were just not
able to understand each other because of their relative situations. Through
this, director Zhang wants the viewer to form the connection that China
is a big country with different kinds of people. There can be a misunderstanding
on the smallest of difference. But like Huike, who depended on Minzhi
to get back to village, and Minzhi, who was helped by the city people,
the Chinese people should depend on each other