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Monday, March 20, 2000
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Volume 65, Issue 114

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Not One Less moves slowly, effectively through its story


Not One Less

Sony Pictures Classics Release
Wei Minzhi, Zhang Huike, Tian Zhenda, Gao Enman
MPAA Rating: G

Grade A


By Andrew Sandoval
Daily Cougar Staff

Teaching at the Shuiquan Primary School in China is not an easy task, and the pay is miserable. On the other hand, earning the respect and appreciation of students is a priceless experience for any teacher. 

In Not One Less, Mayor Tian (Tian Zhenda) hires a 13-year-old teacher named Wei Minzhi (Wei Minzhi). She has no experience and no one in town believes that Wei is the most qualified person for the job. But Wei surprises everyone because she turns out to be a wonderful teacher. 

Teacher Gao has to visit his ill mother. He tells Wei, "If all the students are here after I come back, not one less, you will have your money." The audience might wonder at this point if she is ever going to be paid. 

The Primary School of Shuiquan in the Village of Zhenningbao doesn't have enough money for books, desks, chalk or quality teachers. The poverty experienced by the town might seem like a very sad situation, but the sense of community and the joy of the children make up for material things.

Wei has a difficult time trying to control the children and dealing with the mayor's stubbornness. She does everything in her power to teach and more importantly to make sure that all the children don't drop out. 

During the opening scenes, Wei's story seems too foreign and distant from western lifestyle, but in other regards it is very universal. 

Most of the people that Wei comes in contact with treat her like a girl. The students fight with each other and don't seem very eager to learn. When the situation and the characters are presented, the plot moves slowly.

The adventure really takes off after Zhang Huike, the rascal of the group, drops out and goes to the city in search of work. The child must leave school because the family needs money. Wei does not know it, but she is about to embark on the greatest adventure of her short life. 

Determined to succeed, Wei and her students make money by carrying bricks in a construction site close to the school. 

Very soon, the children develop an interest in math after realizing how to apply knowledge to everyday life. Wei has her students calculate how many bricks they have to carry before they'll have enough money for bus fare to town. 

Wei reaches town and does everything in her power to find Zhang. She posts flyers, and hires another girl to help her look for him. She experiences hunger and sleeps on the street or at a bus stop.

She never gives up or complains and never stops looking. After being advised to contact the media, Wei tries to get on television. She waits for two days outside the station until finally they let her tell her story.

Not One Less can make people appreciate how easy we have it in the West. In China and in many developing countries of the world, children have to make a living at a very early age. Not One Less presents the poverty experienced by people in small villages, but it also shows how the determination of a girl and a community can accomplish anything. 

Not One Less is done with a great sense of sincerity. This film illustrates the good and negative elements of a community.

It seems during the first scenes that Wei only cares about the money, but when she is tongue-tied in front of the television camera and begins to cry, it is obvious that she really cares for her students. This scene is very moving and totally captures the spirit and good heart of the girl. 

Not One Less, based on a true story, is a very inspirational and moving film. Directed by Zhan Yimou, Not One Less is like a window into a culture where people work very hard for little money, but find great personal reward.
 

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