Not One Less
Not One Less is a film directed by Zhang Yimou and released in 1999. Not One Less centers around a school teacher in a poor Chinese village. When the real teacher is called away because of family illness, the mayor replaces him with a 13-year-old, inexperienced girl. In the beginning she has a hard time keeping the class of near 30 students under control, but eventually the students lighten up and start to bond with her. All is going smoothly until one of the students goes into the city to earn money for his sick mother, and ends up getting lost in the huge city. She trails him to the city and goes on a two day search, where she ends up at a television network. After appearing on a news broadcast and begging her student to return, they are reunited. Not only does she find her student and return to him his village, but the surrounding towns are so moved by their plight for money that they donate tons of school supplies to the school. Money is also donated to the town, which is put towards building a new school.
In this movie, poverty is obviously the biggest theme. It is evident in the way that the town operates. They have to replace a real teacher with a teenager. They are very limited with school supplies and the school itself is crumbling. Poverty leads into the theme of the caste system in some areas of China. It almost seemed like the city dwellers thought themselves to be better than the people from small villages and either ignored them or treated the very poorly. Another theme in Not One Less is the importance of money. No matter what was trying to be accomplished, money was a factor. The teacher needed to be paid. School supplies was expensive. They had to move bricks for earn money. A small container of ink and some paper cost the main character so much that after her bus ticket she had nothing left. She couldn’t even properly put up adds for her missing student because it could not be achieved without money. Money makes the world go around, but this theme made it look even more important when examining the urban vs rural sections of China.
I enjoyed this movie. It was fun to watch the teacher start her job and be so awkward and nervous, and then steadily grow into disciplining students and being an authority figure for them. The film had a certain way of making you actually care what happens to the children and want the teacher to succeed so that she will get her pay. I thought the ending was going to be completely different than it was. I thought the mayor was going to come back at the end of her term as teacher and see how well she taught them math and physical education. I thought he’d end up giving her a permanent position. I guess that the ending that actually happened is more uplifting and happy than my original prediction. It was a good film that didn’t necessarily need good acting to drive the plot forward like Le Femme Nikita. I think they should make a sequel that shows what really happens to the money that was donated, because I don’t think I trust the shady mayor.
View the trailer below.