King of Masks

Watched a Chinese movie called The King of Masks. Here is a brief synopsis of the movie based on the marketing brochure:

Having lost his son in the war, the artiste adopts a boy as his grandson and hoping he may inherit his art. Unfortunately, he was cheated by a peddler as the child turns out to be a girl. He tries to get rid of her, but without success. Yearning for a home, she clings desperately to the old man for a livelihood. Thus the grandfather and the grandchild, though without blood relationship, lead a wandering life riddled with a series of witty but heartrending adventures.

The movie was really good. It was raw, realistic, fantasy, touching and annoying at the same time; a trait not achieved by may movies in me.

The synopsis does not give justice to the actual story however as it leaves out the crucial bits and makes the movie sound more like a comedy than a real-life story.

The story goes that there is an old man who happens to be a street actor. His expertise is in changing his masks with lightning fast movements while inventing stories about them.

One fateful day, the old man’s performance is noticed by a great opera actor living in the vicinity. The opera actor advices the old man to pass on his trade-secret to someone instead of letting it die with him.

Having lost his only son, the old man contemplates on how he could follow the opera actor’s advice when he comes upon an alehouse whereby the victims of the recent flood were selling off their girl-children. The old man refuses to buy any as he is obstinate about only having a son.

As he was about to leave, a young lad catches his attention. The old man is mesmerized by the lad and agrees to buy him for a princely sum.

A few happy days passed where lad and grandfather enjoy themselves as they live together.

One fine day, the old man was passing by a performance whereby passerbies were showing off their dexterity skills. The old man takes over from a young boy and shows off all his skills using a knife and a bamboo pole. The young boy gets jealous and from a distance, strikes the old man with a stone from a catapult just as the old man was about to cut the bamboo with the knife. Predictably, the bamboo moved and the knife fell on the old man’s feet instead, wounding him.

Wine was brought to the old man. He asked the lad to urinate on the wine so as to act as a disinfectant for his wound. At this point, the old man comes to know that the lad is not a boy but a girl, she is actually a lass!

The old man is furious with the girl for cheating him as he had made his intentions clear and repeatedly called him a boy. The lass was grief stuck and tries to reason with the old man. The girl has been sold seven times and has been repeatedly abused. She took to the old man’s kindness and decided to hide her gender from him.

However, the old man was not pacified and the two of them agree to a relationship of master and servant; with the lass calling the old man ‘boss’ instead of ‘grandfather’.

A tragedy soon follows: The old man is out one day and the girl, in her curiosity decides to play with his masks. In her play, she puts a mask too close to the fire and sets it alight. Soon the whole residence (which was a boat) is on fire. The girl saves the old man’s precious masks and hides behind an oak tree; fearing the old man’s wrath.

The old man comes back to find his house burnt to the ground and the girl missing. He has involuntarily taken to the girl and thinks she got burnt in the fire. He is grief stricken but follows on his work.

The girl decides to leave the old man and tries to erk out a living on the street. At this point she is kidnapped to look after a young boy of about four who has in turn been kidnapped from a wealthy family.

The girl helps the kid escape and drops him at the old man’s boat. The old man is overjoyed that his prayers for a grandson are finally heard and takes to the kid immediately.

However, there is a massive search on for the kid and the old man is soon arrested. He is tortured into confessing that he is the kidnapper and sent to death.

The girl gets wind of this fact and approaches the opera singer. She pleads with him to help her grandfather. Moved to pity by the girl’s filially; the opera singer agrees to do this best. However, the matter seems to be out of his hand and the opera singer is unable to help the girl.

Undaunted, the girl approaches the regional general. The general declines to interfere in a local matter consents to step in after the girl attempts to take her life in protest.

The old man is released and he is enlightened on the kindness of the girl. He at last accepts her as his granddaughter and teaches her his art.

A truly moving movie which one must watch.


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