Not One Less

Director: Zhang Yimou
Screenwriters: Shi Xiangsheng

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


In his latest film, director Zhang Yimou turns from drama and rich colors to a documentary style. Using untrained but appealing actors, Not One Less is set in a small, dirt-poor Chinese village far from Beijing. Teacher Gao, who must leave his dilapidated one-room schoolhouse for a month, entrusts his students to Wei Minzhi, an adolescent girl from a neighboring village. Strictly there for the money, she is unprepared for neither authority nor teaching. Her main principle of pedagogy is guarding the schoolhouse door as the students copy lessons. After several hilarious confrontations between Wei and her rambunctious charges, the film’s drama begins: Zhang Huike, the class mischief maker disappears, sent to work in the city by his invalid mother. But Wei has struck a bargain: She will get an extra ten yuan only if there is not one student less when teacher Gao returns.

Inventing childish schemes to earn money for a bus ticket to the city, she belatedly discovers a gift for teaching as her formerly unmotivated students learn to calculate the value of time and effort. Several comic misadventures later, Wei sets out to find Zhang, by now lost and destined to become a street urchin. Faced with huge challenges, the naive Wei’s peasant resourcefulness and boundless reserves of stubbornness nonetheless prove equal to the indifference and bureaucracy of the city.

Not One Less works both as a comic test of strong characters and a dramatic study of the contrasts between city and country, old and new in rapidly changing, contemporary China.

— Nicole Guillemet

Screening Details


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