In a village in China mired in poverty, Gao (Gao Enman) is the lone teacher in a school so threadbare he must ration chalk to make sure he has enough for the day. The destitution of the village is not limited to the school; some of the children sleep in the schoolhouse because they have nowhere else to go, and many students have already dropped out to go to work to help feed their families. Gao is forced to leave town for a month, and no one in the village is able to take over for him except a 13-year-old girl, Wei Minzhi (Wei Minzhi), who possesses only the most rudimentary education herself. What she lacks in educational credential, she makes up for in determination -- she needs money, and teaching is an honest job that pays, and since she'll get a 10 yuan bonus if all 28 students are still attending when Gao gets back, she is determined that no one will drop out on her watch. So when one student turns up missing, and word has it he's been sent to the city by his mother to work, she travels to the city to look for him. In a place where thousands of children are working in the underground labor force or begging on the street, one boy hardly stands out from the crowd, and she has little luck. However, she's able to persuade a sympathetic TV station manager to let her make an announcement in hopes someone knows where he has gone. Despite its serious and often grim theme, Yi Ge Dou Bu Neng Shao is often light in tone and draws on the strength and humor of its characters; the film won the Golden Lion at the 1999 Venice Film Festival.
by Mark Deming synopsis