Shower, a Chinese film set on the cusp of tradition and modernity, opens with a scene straight out of "The Jetsons." In the hustling, bustling city of Shenzhen, a man enters what appears to be a public restroom but turns out to be a public shower--a closet-size space that runs him through a wash/rinse/dry cycle, as if he were a car in a car wash. Director Zhang Yang shoots the scene with a kind of tongue-in-cheek deadpan, and though the movie never reaches that giddy a height again, we've been warned: The People's Republic of China has finally gone Hollywood. Made independently of the China Film Bureau, Shower reverses field on most of the Chinese films that make it to our shores. Instead of protesting the way tradition has stifled Chinese society, it longs for the good old (pre-Communist?) days when men hung out at the local bathhouse, whiling away the hours, if not their entire lives.
Pu Cun Xin stars as Da Ming, a wealthy businessman back in his hometown of Beijing to visit his father, Master Liu (Zhu Xu), who's been in the scrub-a-dub-dub business his whole life. Actually, Master Liu is a combination masseur, chiropractor, barber, manicurist, pedicurist, career counselor, marriage counselor, father confessor and all-around nice guy. "A sound mind in a sound body" is Master Liu's watchword, and it's the movie's as well, apparently. Shower fairly drenches us in sentimentality on occasion, and the prodigal-son-returns premise has been used countless times, most recently in Mifune, which also featured a mentally challenged younger brother. But Zhang has a nice feeling for the way water, properly applied, can soothe the savage breast, and the movie has a valuable message for a country that would tear down its aquatic sanctuaries to put up yet another McDonald's.