Synopsis by Clarke Fountain
It normally takes Westerners a few attempts to come to terms with Peking Opera, a traditional (and vanishing) artform of China. For one thing, the music and singing styles seem to be wildly cacaphonous when they are first encountered. Nonetheless, the mythic stories, the gorgeous and elaborate costumes and make-up, and particularly the mad athleticism of the dance/martial arts/acrobatics which enliven most of its dramas have the power to enchant even the most obdurate outsider. However, the difficulty of this artform is such that would-be performers must be apprenticed to it in their childhoods, otherwise they could never learn all its complexities and be conditioned to its rigors. In this movie, Jingling (Fei Yang), a ten-year old student in the Peking Opera, has many challenges to face when his parents' divorce results in his going to live with his austere, reserved grandfather (Zhu Xu). His grandfather finds some companionship with the boy's devoutly Buddhist aunt; the boy, in turn, finds some outlet in his friendship with a girl who is fascinated by Peking Opera. In a tender way, this story shows how the old man and the boy come to terms with one another, their lives, and their history.