Sunday, May 18, 2008

Movie Review: King of Masks

As of late I've been interested in international movies, so I got King of Masks from Netflix. The premise is that an aging street performer, Wang, tries to find a boy he can teach his secrets to. After he buys an eight-year-old boy on the black market, he discovers that he has in fact "adopted" (using the term loosely) a girl. Wang shuns the girl, named Doggie. But, when Wang is wrongly accused of kidnapping another child the only person who can help is Doggie and a famous actor. 

The main reason I watch foreign films is to gain a vignette into another way of life. From what little I know of Chinese culture I was able to pick out a few strong themes. Filial piety is very important in the movie. Doggie does everything she can to save Wang, despite the fact that he will have nothing to do with her. She does this because he is the only family she knows. 

Also important is the appeal to authority. In several scenes in the movie Wang prays to Buddha asking for a son. Doggie respects Wang and his ability to use his masks. Wang, in turn, respects the famous actor for his ability to entertain spectators so well. And, when Wang is thrown in jail the two characters plead for the police to listen to them. 

That all may have been boring, but here is what I was really thinking about. The main underlying issue in the movie was, um..."foreign" to me. Wang's utter disgust with discovering Doggie is in fact a girl was odd to me. Can't a girl learn just as well as a boy? But, I now think much of the power of the film comes from this discrepancy: although Doggie is not allowed in her society to inherit anything, she still strives to do so. She also fights tooth and nail to save the person she cares about. She acts unlike a girl because she knows that is the only way she can save Wang. In the end, she earns the love and respect of Wang, and they gain from each other's company. 

What I got from the movie was that some things what we consider normal and polite can be maladaptive to life. Both Doggie and the actor consciously broke with tradition in order to protect Wang. They went outside to social norm to do what they thought was necessary. I think when people question everything they think is right they come to the conclusion that some of it isn't right at all. I know that this idea isn't new, but I don't think it is taken far enough. A person will question what they want to do for a living, but not if they really need to make so much money to be happy. Or, a person will recognize that judging someone based on their race is idiotic and yet they will continue to be homophobic. I think we should be willing to question everything, even the things we hold sacred, in order to discover what is really important.  

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