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Not One Less

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Not One Less

Not One Less
DVD cover divided into three panels. The first depicts a serious-looking young Chinese woman with braided hair; she is standing, surrounded by blurred faces. The second panel shows a group of laughing children, all looking forward. The third panel shows a seated laughing boy, surrounded by the words, Not One Less. Other writing on the cover says,
DVD release cover
Traditional 一個都不能少
Simplified 一个都不能少
Mandarin yí ge dōu bù néng shǎo
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Produced by Zhang Yimou
Written by Shi Xiangsheng
Starring Wei Minzhi
Zhang Huike
Music by San Bao
Cinematography Hou Yong
Edited by Zhai Ru
Distributed by Columbia Tristar
Release dates
  • April 1999 (1999-04) (PRC)
Running time
106 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin
A middle-aged Chinese man standing at a podium, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and lei
Director Zhang Yimou

Not One Less (Chinese: 一个都不能少; pinyin: yíge dōu bùnéng shǎo) is a 1999 drama film by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, adapted from Shi Xiangsheng's 1997 story "A Sun in the Sky" (Chinese: 天上有个太阳; pinyin: tiān shàng yǒu ge tàiyáng).[1][2] It was produced by Guangxi Film Studio and released by China Film Group Corporation in mainland China, and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and Columbia Tristar internationally.

Set in the People's Republic of China during the 1990s, the film centers on a 13-year-old substitute teacher, Wei Minzhi, in the Chinese countryside. Called in to substitute for a village teacher for one month, Wei is told not to lose any students. When one of the boys takes off in search of work in the big city, she goes looking for him. The film addresses education reform in China, the economic gap between urban and rural populations, and the prevalence of bureaucracy and authority figures in everyday life. It is filmed in a neorealist/documentary style with a troupe of non-professional actors who play characters with the same names and occupations as the actors have in real life, blurring the boundaries between drama and reality.

The domestic release of Not One Less was accompanied by a Chinese government campaign aimed at promoting the film and cracking down on piracy. Internationally, the film was generally well-received, but it also attracted criticism for its ostensibly political message; foreign critics are divided on whether the film should be read as praising or criticizing the Chinese government. When the film was excluded from the 1999 Cannes Film Festival's competition section, Zhang withdrew it and another film from the festival, and published a letter rebuking Cannes for politicization of and "discrimination" against Chinese cinema. The film went on to win the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion and several other awards, and Zhang won the award for best director at the Golden Rooster Awards.


  • Background 1
  • Production and cast 2
    • Cast 2.1
  • Plot 3
  • Themes 4
  • Reception 5
    • Cannes withdrawal 5.1
    • Critical response 5.2
    • Box office and release 5.3
    • Awards 5.4
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
    • Bibliography 6.2
  • External links 7


In the 1990s, primary education reform had become one of the top priorities in the People's Republic of China. About 160 million Chinese people had missed all or part of their education because of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s,[3] and in 1986 the National People's Congress enacted a law calling for nine years of compulsory education.[4] By 1993, it was clear that much of the country was making little progress on implementing nine-year compulsory education, so the 1993–2000 seven-year plan focused on this goal. One of the major challenges educators faced was the large number of rural schoolchildren dropping out to pursue work.[5] Another issue was a large urban–rural divide: funding and teacher quality were far better in urban schools than rural, and urban students stayed in school longer.[6]

Production and cast

Not One Less was Zhang Yimou's ninth film, but only the second not to star long-time collaborator Gong Li (the first was his 1997 Keep Cool).[7] For this film, he cast only amateur actors whose real-life names and occupations resembled those of characters they played in the film—as The Philadelphia Inquirer‍ '​s Steven Rea described the performances, the actors are just "people playing variations of themselves in front of the camera".[8] For instance, Tian Zhenda, who played the mayor, was the real-life mayor of a small village,[9] and the primary actors Wei Minzhi and Zhang Huike were selected from among thousands of students in rural schools.[7][10] (The names and occupations of the film's main actors[11][12] are listed in the table below.) The movie was filmed on location at Chicheng County's Shuiquan Primary School, and in the city of Zhangjiakou;[11] both locations are in Hebei province.

The movie was filmed in a documentary-like, "neorealist"[9] style involving hidden cameras and natural lighting.[7][9][13][14] There are also, however, elements of heavy editing—for example, Shelly Kraicer noted that many scenes have frequent, rapid cuts, partially as a result of filming with inexperienced actors.[15]

Zhang had to work closely with government censors during production of the film. He related how the censors "kept reminding [me] not to show China as too backward and too poor", and said that on the title cards at the end of the movie he had to write that the number of rural children dropping out of school each year was one million, although he believed the number was actually three times that.[7] Not One Less was Zhang's first film to enjoy government support and resources.[16]


Name Role Real-life occupation
Wei Minzhi Teacher Wei middle school student
Zhang Huike class troublemaker, school dropout primary school student
Tian Zhenda Mayor Tian mayor of a village in Yanqing county
Gao Enman Teacher Gao village teacher in Yanqing county
Sun Zhimei helps Wei search for Zhang Huike in the city middle school student
Feng Yuying TV station receptionist ticket clerk
Li Fanfan TV show host TV show host
Zhang Yichang sports recruiter sports instructor
Xu Zhanqing brickyard owner mayor of a village in Yanqing county
Liu Hanzhi Zhang Huike's sick mother villager
Ma Guolin man in bus station clerk
Wu Wanlu TV station manager deputy manager of a broadcasting station
Liu Ru train station announcer announcer for a broadcasting station
Wang Shulan stationery store clerk stationery store manager
Fu Xinmin TV show director TV station head of programming
Bai Mei restaurant owner restaurant manager


Thirteen-year-old Wei Minzhi arrives in Shuiquan village to substitute for the village's only teacher (Gao Enman) while he is away on family business. When Gao discovers that Wei does not have a high school education and has no special talents, he instructs her to teach by copying his texts onto the board and then making the students copy them into their notebooks; he also tells her not to use more than one piece of chalk per day, because the village is too poor to afford more. Before leaving, he explains to her that many students have recently left school to find work in the cities, and he offers her a 10 yuan bonus if all the students are still there when he returns.

Wei Minzhi, you look after the students. More than ten have already left. I don't want to lose any more. The mayor promised fifty yuan; he'll make sure you get it. If all the students are here when I get back—not one less—you'll get an extra ten yuan.

—Teacher Gao, Not One Less (11:08–11:27)

When Wei begins teaching, she has little rapport with the students: they shout and run around instead of copying their work, and the class troublemaker, Zhang Huike, insists that "she's not a teacher, she's Wei Chunzhi's big sister!" After putting the lesson on the board, Wei usually sits outside, guarding the door to make sure no students leave until they have finished their work. Early in the month, a sports recruiter comes to take one athletic girl, Ming Xinhong, to a special training school; unwilling to let any students leave, Wei hides Ming, and when the village mayor (Tian Zhenda) finds her, Wei chases after their car in a futile attempt to stop them.

One day, after trying to make the troublemaker Zhang apologize for bothering another student, Wei discovers that Zhang has left to go find work in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou. The village mayor is unwilling to give her money for a bus ticket to the city, so she resolves to earn the money herself, and recruits the remaining students to help. One girl suggests that they can make money by moving bricks in a nearby brickyard, and Wei begins giving the students mathematical exercises centered on finding out how much money they need to earn for the bus tickets, how many bricks they need to move, and how much time it will take. Through these exercises and working to earn money, her rapport with the class improves. After earning the money, she reaches the bus station but learns that the price is higher than she thought, and she cannot afford a ticket. Wei ends up walking most of the way to Zhangjiakou.

Map of China, with Zhangjiakou and Beijing marked. The cities are close together in northeast China; Zhangjiakou is slightly northwest of Beijing.
Location of Zhangjiakou, relative to Beijing

In the city, Wei finds the people that Zhang was supposed to be working with, only to discover that they had lost him at the train station days before. She forces another girl her age, Sun Zhimei, to help her look for Zhang at the train station, but they do not find him. Wei has no success finding Zhang through the public address system and "missing person" posters, so she goes to the local television station to broadcast a missing person notice. The receptionist (Feng Yuying) will not let her in without valid identification, though, and says the only way she can enter is with permission from the station manager, whom she describes as "a man with glasses". For the rest of the day, Wei stands by the station's only gate, stopping every man with glasses, but she does not find the station manager, and spends the night asleep on the street. The next day the station manager (Wu Wanlu) sees her at the gate again, through his window, and lets her in, scolding the receptionist for making her wait outside.

Although Wei has no money to run an ad on TV, the station manager is interested in her story and decides to feature Wei in a talk show special about rural education. On the talk show, Wei is nervous and hardly says a word when the host (Li Fanfan) addresses her, but Zhang—who has been wandering the streets begging for food—sees the show. After Wei and Zhang are reunited, the station manager arranges to have them driven back to village, along with a truckload of school supplies and donations that viewers had sent in. Upon their return, they are greeted by the whole village. In the final scene, Wei presents the students with several boxes of colored chalk that were donated, and allows each student to write one character on the board. The film ends with a series of title cards that recount the actions of the characters after the film ends, and describe the problem of poverty in rural education in China.


While most of Zhang's early films had been historical epics, Not One Less was one of the first to focus on contemporary China.[17][18] The film's main theme involves the difficulties faced in providing rural education in China. When Wei Minzhi arrives in Shuiquan village, the teacher Gao has not been paid in six months and the school building is in disrepair,[19] and chalk is in such short supply that Gao gives Wei specific instructions limiting how large her written characters should be.[20] Wei sleeps in the school building, sharing a bed with several female students. The version of the film released overseas ends with a series of title cards in English, the last of which reads, "Each year, poverty forces one million children in China to leave school. Through the help of donations, about 15% of these children return to school."

Black-and-white head portrait of an older man with short hair and sunglasses
Not One Less has thematic and stylistic similarities to the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

Because the people and locations used in the film are real but are carefully selected and edited, the film creates a "friction"[15] between documentary reality and narrative fiction. This balancing act between the real and the imaginary has drawn comparisons to neorealist works such as those of Iranian directors Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf,[13][21][22] and Zhang has openly acknowledged the influence of Kiarostami in this film.[23] Zhang Xiaoling of the University of Nottingham argues that Zhang Yimou used the documentary perspective in order to suggest that the story is an accurate reflection of most rural areas in China,[24] while Shelly Kraicer believes that his "simultaneous presentation of seemingly opposing messages" is a powerful artistic method in of itself, and that it allows Zhang to circumvent censors by guaranteeing that the movie will include at least one message that they like.[15] Jean-Michel Frodon of Le Monde maintains that the film was produced "in the shadow of two superpowers" and needed to make compromises with each.[25]

The film addresses the prominent place that bureaucracy, and verbal negotiation and struggle, occupy in everyday life in China. Many scenes pit Wei against authority figures such as the village mayor, the announcer in the train station, and the TV station receptionist who also acts as a "gatekeeper".[26][27] Aside from Wei, many characters in the film show a "blind faith" in authority figures.[28] While she lacks money and power, Wei overcomes her obstacles through sheer obstinacy and ignorant persistence,[1][29][30] suggesting that speech and perseverance can overcome barriers.[26] Wei becomes an example of "heroic obstinacy"[17] and a model of using determination to face "overwhelming odds".[18] For this reason, the film has been frequently compared to Zhang's 1993 The Story of Qiu Ju, whose heroine is also a determined, stubborn woman; likewise, Qiu Ju is also filmed in a neo-realistic style, set partially in contemporary rural China and partially in the city,[31][32] and employs mostly amateur actors.[33]

Not One Less portrays the mass media as a locus of power: Wei discovers that only someone with money or connections can gain access to a television station, but once someone is on camera she or he becomes part of an "invisible media hegemony" with the power to "manipulate social behavior", catching people's attention where paper advertisements could not and moving cityfolk to donate money to a country school.[34] The power of television within the film's story, according to Laikwan Pang of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, reflects its prominent place in Chinese society of the late 1990s, when domestic cinema was floundering but television was developing quickly; Pang argues that television-watching forms a "collective consciousness" for Chinese citizens, and that the way television unifies people in Not One Less is an illustration of this.[35]

Aerial view of a city, surrounded mostly by desert. In the foreground and background are hills with sparse vegetation.
Zhangjiakou, where the "urban" half of the film takes place

Money is important throughout the film.[8] Concerns about money dominate much of the film—for example, a large portion is devoted to Wei and her students' attempt to earn enough money for bus tickets[36]—as well as motivating them. Most major characters, including Wei, demand payment for their actions,[37] and it is left unclear whether Wei's search for Zhang Huike is motivated by altruism or by the promise of a 10-yuan bonus.[38][39] Zhu Ying points out the prominence of money in the film creates a conflict between traditional Confucian values (such as the implication that the solutions to Wei's problems can be found through the help of authority figures) and modern, capitalist and individualistic society.[38]

Finally, the film illustrates the growing urban–rural divide in China. When Wei reaches Zhangjiakou, the film creates a clear contrast between urban and rural life,[27][30] and the two locations are physically separated by a dark tunnel.[40] The city is not portrayed as idyllic; rather, Zhang shows that rural people are faced with difficulties and discrimination in the cities. While Wei's first view of the city exposes her to well-dressed people and modern buildings, the living quarters she goes to while searching for Zhang Huike are cramped and squalid.[40] Likewise, the iron gate where Wei waits all day for the TV station director reflects the barriers poor people face to survival in the city, and the necessity of

External links

  • Cardullo, Bert (2004). In search of cinema: writings on international film art. McGill-Queen's Press.  
  • Cui, Shuqin (2003). Women through the lens: gender and nation in a century of Chinese cinema. University of Hawaii Press.  
  • Da, Lan (2000). "After Zhang Yimou's withdrawal from Cannes". Chinese Sociology and Anthropology 32 (2). 
  • Hao, Jian (郝建) (2004). "唯漂亮主义—关于国家新形象的塑造 ("Aesthecism—On the shaping of the new national image")". 电影欣赏 (Film Appreciation) (in 中文) (121). 
  • Knight, John; Shi, Li; Song, Lina (2006). "The Rural-Urban Divide and the Evolution of Political Economy in China". In Keith B. Griffin, James K. Boyce. Human development in the era of globalization: essays in honor of Keith B. Griffin. p. 46.  
  • Kraicer, Shelly (2001). "Not One Less". Persimmons 1 (3). Retrieved 9 September 2009. 
  • Kwok, Juanita; McKnight, Lucinda (2002). "Not One Less". Film Asia: new perspectives on film for English. Curriculum Corporation.  
  • Liu, Xingyi (刘行一); Xu, Su (许苏) (2007). "农村教育的现实描摹—电影《一个都不能少》评析 (A real portrayal of rural education—Commentary and analysis of the movie Not One Less)". 电影评介 (Movie Review) (in 中文) 24. 
  • Lu, Sheldon H (2002). "Zhang Yimou". In Yvonne Tasker. Fifty contemporary filmmakers. Routledge.  
  • Lu, Sheldon H (2005). "Chinese film culture at the end of the twentieth century: the case of Not One Less by Zhang Yimou". In Sheldon H. Lu and Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh. Chinese-Language Film: Historiography, Poetics, Politics.  
  • Mao, Wen (毛文) (2003). "我们的课堂还缺少点什么? --从影片《一个都不能少》谈起 (Are our classrooms still missing a little something? Insight from the film Not One Less)". 师道 (Teacher Doctrines) (in 中文) 3 (6). 
  • Pang, Laikwan (2004). "Piracy/Privacy: The Despair of Cinema and Collectivity in China". Boundary 2 31 (3). 
  • Wang, James CF (2002). Contemporary Chinese Politics: an introduction (7 ed.).  
  • Wu, Cynthia (2001). "Not One Less". In Frances K. Gateward. Zhang Yimou: interviews. University Press of Mississippi.  
  • Zhang, Xiaoling (2001). "A film director's criticism of reform China: a close reading of Zhang Yimou's Not One Less". China Information 15 (2). 
  • Zhu, Ying (2003). Chinese cinema during the era of reform: the ingenuity of the system. Greenwood Publishing Group.  


  1. ^ a b c Zhang 2001, p. 136.
  2. ^ Kwok & McKnight 2002, p. 102.
  3. ^ Wang 2002, p. 344.
  4. ^ Wang 2002, p. 340.
  5. ^ Wang 2002, p. 346.
  6. ^ Knight, Shi & Song 2006, p. 46.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Feinstein, Howard (6 February 2000). "Losing a Muse and Moving On".  
  8. ^ a b Rea, Steven (24 March 2000). "In a Chinese village, the teacher is 13".  
  9. ^ a b c Kraicer 2001, p. 85.
  10. ^ Wu 2001, p. 128.
  11. ^ a b Not One Less, credits.
  12. ^ "一个都不能少 剧组成员 ("Not One Less" cast/crew members)" (in 中文).  
  13. ^ a b Scott, A.O. (27 May 2001). "Women of China, Chasing Their Impossible Dreams".  
  14. ^ a b Liu & Xu 2007.
  15. ^ a b c d Kraicer 2001, p. 86.
  16. ^ Hao 2004. "也是从那部影片开始,张艺谋将自己的创造能力与政府资本和主导媒体的宣传资源结合起来。"
  17. ^ a b Cardullo 2004, p. 114.
  18. ^ a b Lu 2002, p. 414.
  19. ^ Zhang 2001, p. 133.
  20. ^ a b c d e Kemp, Philip (August 2000). "Not One Less".  
  21. ^ Kraicer 2001, pp. 85–6.
  22. ^ a b Tsang, Susan (3 December 1999). "Life's little lessons".  
  23. ^ a b c Adair, Gilbert (26 June 2000). "Kids these days really known how to act".  
  24. ^ Zhang 2001, p. 138.
  25. ^ Frodon, Jean-Michel (3 November 1999). "Un Lion d'or à l'ombre des grandes puissances; Pas un de moins. Zhang Yimou se soumet à des compromis sans abdiquer entièrement son talent ("A Golden Lion in the shadow of great powers; Not One Less. Zhang Yimou submits to compromises without entirely abdicating his talent")".  
  26. ^ a b c Kraicer 2001, p. 87.
  27. ^ a b Kwok & McKnight 2002, p. 103.
  28. ^ a b Zhang 2001, p. 137.
  29. ^ a b c d e Scott, A.O. (18 February 2000). "A Substitute Teacher Is Put to the Test".  
  30. ^ a b c d e Lally, Kevin. "Not One Less".  
  31. ^ a b Frodon, Jean-Michel (3 November 1999). "Un Lion d'or à l'ombre des grandes puissances; Pas un de moins. Zhang Yimou se soumet à des compromis sans abdiquer entièrement son talent ("A Golden Lion in the shadow of great powers; Not One Less. Zhang Yimou submits to compromises without entirely abdicating his talent")".  
  32. ^ Lu 2005, p. 122.
  33. ^  
  34. ^ Cui 2003, pp. 124–5.
  35. ^ Pang 2004, pp. 119–20.
  36. ^ Cui 2003, pp. 123–4.
  37. ^ Cardullo 2004, p. 115.
  38. ^ a b Zhu 2003, p. 215.
  39. ^ a b c Ansen, David (6 March 2000). "Winning Wei".  
  40. ^ a b c Zhang 2001, p. 134.
  41. ^ a b c Zhang 2001, p. 139.
  42. ^ a b Lu 2005, p. 126.
  43. ^ Da 2000, p. 47.
  44. ^ a b c Kraicer 2001, p. 84.
  45. ^ a b c Zhang 2001, p. 131.
  46. ^ a b Zhu 2003, p. 122.
  47. ^ The original Chinese text of the letter is available at "张艺谋郑重声明退出戛纳电影节 (Zhang Yimou solemnly declares his withdrawal from Cannes Film Festival)".  
    An English translation is available in Zhu (2003, p. 140).
  48. ^ "Not One Less".  
  49. ^ "Not One Less".  
  50. ^ Porter, Edward (25 June 2000). "Not One Less".  
  51. ^ Howe, Desson (17 March 2009). "Not One Less".  
  52. ^ Paatsch, Leigh (19 February 2000). "China's new class wars".  
  53. ^ Hao 2004. "从《一个都不能少》开始,张艺谋开始按照政治上的主导意识来安排自己影片中人物的动机发展和行动的走向与结局。该片剧作的转折点力量(爱民的电视台台长)的编排具有中国语境内的政治保险性。"
  54. ^ Frodon, Jean-Michel (3 November 1999). "Un Lion d'or à l'ombre des grandes puissances; Pas un de moins. Zhang Yimou se soumet à des compromis sans abdiquer entièrement son talent ("A Golden Lion in the shadow of great powers; Not One Less. Zhang Yimou submits to compromises without entirely abdicating his talent")".  
  55. ^ a b Peter Rainer. "Not One Less".  
  56. ^ Kennedy, Janice (16 July 2000). "Zhang Yimou delivers another gem".  
  57. ^ Zhu 2003, p. 216.
  58. ^ Vera, Noel (5 November 1999). "One of the finest films to come out in the '90s".  
  59. ^ Mao 2003.
  60. ^ "Not One Less".  
  61. ^ a b Pang 2004, p. 119.
  62. ^ a b Pang 2004, p. 118.
  63. ^ a b Lu 2005, p. 129.
  64. ^ Lu 2005, p. 132.
  65. ^ "Not One Less".  
  66. ^ Liu, Joey (22 January 2006). "Redeeming features".  
  67. ^ Lu 2005, pp. 126–7, 129–31.
  68. ^ Lu 2005, p. 31.
  69. ^ Pang 2004, p. 120.
  70. ^ a b news summary)"Not One Less"一个都不能少 新闻摘要 ( (in 中文).  
  71. ^ Liu & Xu 2007. "这是我国第一次对国产影片的版权实行如此正式的保护。"
  72. ^ a b "The Golden Rooster Award (1999)".  
  73. ^ a b "Hundred Flowers Awards (1999)".  
  74. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Awards for Yi ge dou bu neng shao".  
  75. ^ "The Winner of 5th Golden Bauhinia Awards, 2000". Chinese Movie Database. 19 March 2000. Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
    * "2000年第五屆金紫荊獎得獎名單 (List of winners at the 5th Golden Bauhinia Awards, 2000)" (in 中文).  



Awards Year Category Result Notes
Venice Film Festival[74] 1999 Golden Lion Won
Lanterna Magica award Won
Sergio Trasatti award Won
UNICEF award Won
Golden Rooster Awards[72][74] 1999 Best Director Won
Hundred Flowers Awards[73][74] 1999 Best Picture Won with two other films
Shanghai Film Critics Awards[74] 1999 Film of Merit Won
Best Director Won
Beijing Student Film Festival[74] 1999 Jury Award: Best Film Won
China Obelisk Film Awards[42] 1999 Outstanding Film Director Won with two other directors
Outstanding Feature Film Won with nine other films
São Paulo International Film Festival[74] 1999 Audience Award: Best Feature Won
European Film Awards[74] 1999 Screen International Award Nominated
Golden Bauhinia Awards[75] 2000 Top 10 Chinese films Won with nine other films
Young Artist Awards[74] 2000 Best International Film Won
Best Performance in an International Film (Young Performer) Won
Kinema Junpo Awards[74] 2001 Best Foreign Language Film Director Won
Isfahan International Festival of Films
for Children & Young Adults[74]
2001 Golden Butterfly Won
Changchun Film Festival[74] 2008 Golden Deer: Outstanding Film in Rural Theme Won with four other films

Although it was withdrawn from Cannes, Not One Less went on to win the Golden Lion, the top award at the Venice Film Festival.[44] Zhang also received a best director award at the Golden Rooster, mainland China's most prestigious award ceremony,[72] and the film was voted one of the top three of the year in the Hundred Flowers Awards.[73] Awards the film won or was nominated for are listed below.


At the time of Not One Less‍ '​ release, DVD and VCD piracy was a growing concern in mainland China, and the China Copyright Office issued a notice forbidding unauthorized production or distribution of the film. This was the first time China had enacted special copyright protections for a domestic film.[70][71] On 21 April 1999, Hubei province's Culture Office issued an "Urgent Notice for Immediate Confiscation of Pirated Not One Less VCDs", and two days later the Culture Office and movie company joined forces to conduct raids on ten audio-video stores, seizing pirated discs from six of them.[70]

Lu warns that domestic box office sales are not reliable indicators of a film's popularity in mainland China, because of piracy and because of state or social group sponsorship;[67] many workers were given free tickets to promote the film, and a 1999 report claimed that more tickets were purchased by the government than by individuals.[61] The film was more popular than most government-promoted films touting the party line and Lu claims that it had "tremendous social support",[68] but Pang points out that its success was "not purely egalitarian, but partly constructed."[69]

Rights to distribute the film were purchased by the China Film Group Corporation, a state-sponsored organization, and the government actively promoted the film.[61] It was officially released in mainland China in April 1999,[62] although there were showings as early as mid-February.[63] Sheldon H. Lu reports that the film grossed ¥18 million, an average amount, in its first three months of showing; by the end of its run in November, it sold ¥40 million at the box office.[63] (In comparison, Zhang's 2002 film Hero would earn ¥270 million three years later.)[64] Nevertheless, Not One Less was the highest-grossing domestic film of 1999, and Laikwan Pang has called it a "box office success".[62] In the United States, the film was released in theaters on 18 February 2000, and grossed $50,256 in its first weekend and $592,586 overall;[65] The release was handled by Sony Pictures Classics,[29] and home video distribution by Columbia Tristar;[26][31] Not One Less was Columbia's first Chinese film.[66]

Box office and release

Wei Minzhi's character received mixed reactions: Scott described her as a "heroic" character who demonstrates how obstinacy can be a virtue,[29] whereas Richard Corliss of Time says she is "no brighter or more resourceful than [her students]".[60] Reactions to the city portion of the movie were also mixed: while Zhang describes the second half of the film as an eloquent commentary on China's urban-rural divide[40] and Kevin Lally calls it "startling",[30] Kemp criticizes it for being a predictable "Victorian cliché".[20]

[59], Mao Wen wrote that teachers should learn from Wei's example and provide students with practical exercises.Teacher Doctrines Another well-received part of the film was the segment in which Wei teaches math by creating practical examples out of her attempt to raise money for the bus to Zhangjiakou; in the Chinese journal [30]."Italian neo-realists‍ '​s Kevin Lally described it as "a poignant story of poverty and spirit reminiscent of the great Film Journal International and [55] Other critics noted the strength of the film's storytelling; for instance, Rainer called the film an "uncommon, and uncommonly moving, love story",[58] and Jean-Michel Frodon of [30][23][20] Overall, critics were impressed with the performances of the amateur actors,


Critical response

Neither Not One Less nor Zhang's other 1999 film The Road Home was selected for the 1999 Cannes Film Festival's Official Selection, the most prestigious competition in the festival, where several of Zhang's earlier films had won awards.[42][43] The rationale is uncertain; Shelly Kraicer and Zhang Xiaoling claim that Cannes officials viewed the Not One Less‍ '​ happy ending, with the main characters' conflicts resolved by the generosity of city dwellers and higher-up officials, as pro-China propaganda,[44][45] while Zhu Ying claims that the officials saw it and The Road Home as too anti-government.[46] Rather than have his films shown in a less competitive portion of the festival, Zhang withdrew them both in protest, stating that the movies were apolitical.[44][45][46] In an open letter published in the Beijing Youth Daily, Zhang accused the festival of being motivated by other than artistic concerns, and criticized the Western perception that all Chinese films must be either "pro-government" or "anti-government", referring to it as a "discrimination against Chinese films".[47]

I cannot accept that when it comes to Chinese films, the West seems for a long time to have had just the one 'political' reading: if it's not "against the government" then it's "for the government". The naïveté and lack of perspective [lit. "one-sidedness"] of using so simple a concept to judge a film is obvious. With respect to the works of directors from America, France and Italy for example, I doubt you have the same point of view.

—Zhang Yimou (20 April 1999). Beijing Youth Daily.

Cannes withdrawal


[29].Bicycle Thieves's 1948 Vittorio De Sica compared the "unbearable" despair of the film's second half to that of The New York Times A.O. Scott of [41]

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