Not One Less (1999): Chinese Zhang Yimou’s Neo-Realistic Tale of Educational and Economic Issues in Modern China

Tackling the issue of education reform in China, Zhang Yimou’s ultra-realistic feature, Not One Less, is adapted from a 1997 short story, “A Sun in the Sky”

Set in the People’s Republic of China in the 1990s, the film centers on a young substitute teacher, only 13, Wei Minzhi, in the rural country.  Wei’s mission is not to lose any students, hence the title. When a boy leaves in search of work in the big city, she goes looking for him.

Yimou is critical of the economic gap between urban and rural folks, and the prevalence of red-tape bureaucracy and strict authority figures in everyday life.

It was shot in neo-realistic style, style with a troupe of non-professional actors who play characters with the same names and occupations as in real life.

The domestic release was accompanied by a Chinese government campaign aimed at promoting the film and its ideological agenda.

When the film was excluded from the 1999 Cannes Film Fest,, 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 then went on to win the top award, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Film Fest.

It was distributed in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, and internationally by Columbia-Tri-Star.