Shower: The traditional culture complex and the modern panic

25 April 2015 on Movies. 6 minutes

Many things happened in 1990s and 1980s in China: the reform and opening-up policy, the market-oriented economy, the individual economy and the springing up of uncountable “modern” things and ideas. Socialistic and traditional China suddenly ushered in its modern age. Modern things and ideas impact on the traditional culture, and conflicts of old and new are everywhere at the age. Zhang Yang’s movie Shower tells a story happened in such a time, and the movie shows Zhang’s opinion of this “old” and “new” debate competition. In Shower, Zhang pays attention to the value of tradition culture, and expresses his panic of modern life and rapidly developing society. Zhang uses the conflicts between Da Ming and his father to reflect the conflicts between the traditional culture and the modern life. Through the conflicts, Zhang shows his concerns of modern life with the demonstration of various kinds of “modern diseases”, and he takes the bath house and Er Ming as representations of traditional culture, to show his opinion about the value of traditional cultures in modern life.

Shower is about conflicts between Da Ming and his father, and the conflicts are actually the conflicts between modern culture and traditional culture. The confliction in Shower is about a young man who wants to pursue economic success, and his responsibility to his aging father, impaired brother and the heirless bath house. Da Ming needs to make a choice between the impaired brother, the old father, the heirless bath house and his dream of success in Shenzhen. The conflictions between Da Ming and his father seems like a family conflict and an ethical issue. However, story in Shower is a most simple and most typically story happens in that age. At that time, every family faces the same problem that Da Ming and his father face. Da Ming is a representation of the young man during 1980s and 1990s. Young people wants to pursue the economic success, but they also have the responsibility of the traditional elder generation and the family. They are also confused with their own identity during the concept transformation of the society. Da Ming’s family conflict and ethical issue is not his own problem. It is a conflict of the society, a conflict between the young generation and elder generation. Or in another word, it is a conflict between modern culture and traditional culture.

However, demonstrate conflicts between modern and tradition is normal. Thus, what the director, Zhang, wants to express though conflicts becomes important. In the film, Zhang demonstrates various kind of “modern diseases”, which reveal Zhang’s concerns and panic about the modern life. He Bing, the “Pavarotti” boy, Zhang Jinhao, Da Ming, every young man in the film has a “modern disease”. He Bing is a man who has a lot of ideas but never applies them. The film starts with He Bing’s fantasy: an automatic shower machine. In contrast with the traditional bash house, the automatic shower machine represents the imagination of the young generation. However, when Da Ming’s father asks He Bing to do some actual work such as fix the neon lights of the bath house, He never moves. He Bing is full of ideas, but he lacks the basic execution to realize the ideas. He Bing is representation of a kind of young people at the time: they are inspired by the economic reform and the modern thoughts and full of imagination, but they lack the basic execution ability to fulfill their dream. It is the first “modern” diseases in the film. Besides He Bing, the “Pavarotti” boy and Zhang Jinhao also has their problems. The “Pavarotti” boy can sing well, but he can never open his mouse in public. Zhang Jinhao love his wife, but he cannot have sex with her. The problem of the “Pavarotti” boy and Zhang Jinhao is same, and it is also common problem of almost every modernist: the mental illness. High pressure, fast-paced life and the identity lost during the concept transformation of the society, give the modernists serious mental stress, which finally grows into mental illness. It is the second “modern disease” in the film. Da Ming’s problem is the lack of sincerity of modernists. Da Ming does not tell his wife about his impaired brother because he is afraid of being cold-shouldered by his wife. Da Ming’s behavior is lack of sincerity. However, Da Ming is just a representation of other modernists. Everyone in the society is just like Da Ming. They always pretends to be perfect. They show their perfect image to their client, colleagues, boss and even their family, they hide their disadvantages with their lack of sincerity. It is the third “modern disease” in the film. He Bing, the “Pavarotti” boy, Zhang Jinhao, Da Ming are representations of modernists. Zhang use the problems of those four people reflect the problems in modern life, and show his panic and concerns about the modern culture: rapidly development can cause a lot of problems.

As a Beijing boy, Zhang has his special complex of the traditional bash house and the kind neighbors (街坊). In Shower, Zhang takes the bath house and Er Ming as the representation of traditional culture, and shows his thought about the value of traditional cultures in the modern life. In the film, the image of bash house is very interesting. It not only satisfies Zhang’s and audiences’ traditional culture complex, demonstrates the beauty and happiness that old culture can bring, but also provides a shelter of traditional culture, and be the medicine of the “modern diseases”. The “Pavarotti” boy can sing in public once he is taking a shower; Zhang Jinhao finally cures his mental block with his wife in a pool of hot water; Da Ming decides to leave the cold Shenzhen and stay at the hot bath house. The traditional bath house finally becomes the magic medicine of “modern diseases”. Another representation of traditional culture is Da Ming’s impaired brother, Er Ming. Unlike the other young man, Er Ming does not have any of the “modern diseases”. Er Ming is just like a little boy, so he does not have any mental blocks. He is not affected by the modern cultures, and he treats people honestly and friendly. Although he is impaired, he is happier than any other one in the film. Zhang uses Er Ming as a representation of people who does not pursue “success” and the unfounded desires, and also a representation of the pure and beauty part of traditional culture. The magic effect of the bath house and the pour nature of Er Ming shows Zhang’s special complex of the old and simple things, and also shows Zhang’s attitude of the value of traditional culture.

Shower is an answer. It is Zhang’s thoughts about the 1980s and 1990s China. Zhang use a family conflict represents the conflict between modern and traditional. Through the conflicts, Zhang shows his panic about the rapidly developing China, and the special complex of the old and simple traditional culture. Shower is an appeal. It is Zhang’s appeal that ask the society to remind the value of old things during the fast development. “As good as water (上善若水)”, just like the old saying says, the old bath house maybe is the best medicine to cure the tired hearts of modern.


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