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Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks” Critical Essay


“The King of Masks” directed by Wu Tianming is a kindhearted Chinese melodrama that renders a clear understanding of the theme of love. The film begins with Wang Bian Lian (Zhu Xu), an old street performer frantically searching for a male heir to teach him the face changing techniques according to the Chinese culture. In this regard, Wang meets a tender child who was eager to learn acrobatics.

The film demonstrates an excellent scenic cinematography that accompanies an elaborate theme of love. Wang was very sorry when the young Doggie fell sick and he had no money to take her for medication. Doggie’s sickness resulted in Wang realizing that she was a girl and not a boy. However, Wang continued to stay with Doggie, but declined to teach her the face changing technique because only boys were allowed to earn the trick.

The relationship between Wang and Doggie became shaky after Doggie accidentally burned Wang’s boat and went to hide in the city where she returned again with a child (Wengui 103).

The new child restored Wang’s joy although he was later arrested and jailed, but Doggie is determined to rescue him. As such, the relationship between Wang and Doggie highlights how true love is important during harsh times and how women were discriminated in China.

The ageing street performer was a lonely man in the film who kept on searching for a grandson to teach him his artistic prowess. The old man was determined that one day he would find a grandson through his regular visits from one town to another. When he met a female character in the film, he became certain that finally he had found a grandson.

The female character told Wang: “….Do not die without an heir or your magic will die, too.” (Wengui 93). The sentiments from the female character gave Wang a deep thought and finally bought the child to teach him the tactics. At the same time, the old man was headed to a nearby town to buy a grandson (Wengui 93). However, the Chinese cultural practice requires that only girls are sold because the girls were less important.

The Chinese traditions during the ancient times did not value the importance of a girl child. Tianming demonstrates the evils of the Chinese culture of the 1930 using this film to show how Doggie found herself in the old street performer’s hands (Jade 234). Although the old man was feeling bad after discovering that Doggie was not a boy, he still cared for her.

The girl categorically stated to the old man that she had been sold seven times and that is the reason she had to pretend to be a boy. Additionally, the man who claimed to be his father was not her actual parent, but somebody who used to torment her.

The old man was touched with the girl’s assertion and realized how the girl had undergone severe hurdles. The viewer is able to understand how the ancient culture was unfair to girls in the Chinese set up.

The film is an excellent love story with important moral lessons about how the girl child suffered on the Chinese traditional set up. The elaborate account of events that happened to Doggie demonstrates how a girl child was treated unfairly. In her case, she was sold seven times in eight years, regularly tormented and had never enjoyed being free in a society where the opposite gender was free.

The cultural belief impact was so strong for the Chinese people at that time to an extent that even the old man who saw sense in Doggie’s misfortunes could not teach the girl the face changing techniques. Tianming used the film to illustrate the suffering the female character had to undergo to liberate a girl child from the unfair Chinese myth.

Later on, the old man is convinced after watching an opera called Attaining Nirvana to teach Doggie acrobatics. The young girl does not understand why the real world should treat the girl child in such a manner yet they were all from the same society.

It is clear that Wang still believed in the traditions about the girl child. When Doggie worked hard to please and worship him he just complained and said “…..if only you were a boy” (Wengui 93).

“The King of Masks” is an interesting film revolving around love, but further illustrates how culture can be used as an injustice in the society. Tianming used Doggie as a female character to demonstrate the suffering, but also introduces another character Bodhisattva who brings hope to the discriminated gender. The great mother of Bodhisattva has dedicated her sacrifice to fight against the cultural belief about girls to change the society.

The society did not understand that the girl child could provide some help to the society at one time. Tianming demonstrates that the important thing is real love and determination and not a specific gender. The old man was jailed after being found with a kidnapped child, but Doggie is determined to rescue him.

They collectively with Bodhisattva pleaded with the police to release the old man after demonstrating the bruises on Doggie’s body (Jade 234). After being released from jail, the old man learned that although he had less concern about the young girl, she had proved to be more helpful than a boy he would have wished to have. As such, Tianming carefully demonstrates the importance of love and the girl child in the Chinese society.

The film has an important moral lesson because the secrets that were used in the film would demonstrate the need for a reformed society. The film took a dramatic turn when the old man discovered that Doggie was not a boy as earlier cheated by the seller. The viewer would expect that the old man who believed so strongly on the Chinese cultural beliefs would send away the young girl.

However, the girl explained to Wang her lifelong misfortunes that persuaded the old man to change his mind partially. At the end of the film, Doggie’s heroics help rescue the old man from jail. The viewer is able to learn from this act that the young girl would have learned enough tactics from the old man and she knew what was expected of her to rescue the old man.

Therefore, Tianming points on the importance of the Chinese cultural belief of ignoring the girl child yet she had the potential like the boy child that was preferred (Jade 234). As such, the Chinese cultural belief was an unfair judgment of the potential of the girl child.

Works Cited

Jade, Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry edited by WN Herbert and Yang Lian with Brian Holton and Qin Xiaoyu. London: Picador publisher, 2008. Print.

Wengui, Chen. The king of the Masks (1997). New York: Shearsman Books, 2008. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, July 5). Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks”. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/love-and-the-girl-child-in-the-king-of-masks/

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"Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks”." IvyPanda, 5 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/love-and-the-girl-child-in-the-king-of-masks/.

1. IvyPanda. "Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks”." July 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/love-and-the-girl-child-in-the-king-of-masks/.


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IvyPanda. "Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks”." July 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/love-and-the-girl-child-in-the-king-of-masks/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks”." July 5, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/love-and-the-girl-child-in-the-king-of-masks/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Love and the girl child in “The King of Masks”'. 5 July.

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