Director Zhang Yimou gained international success in the early 1990s with such works of studied eroticism and cruelty as Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, based in part on the presence of the radiantly beautiful Gong Li. After their collaboration ended with his poorly received Shanghai Triad, Zhang stripped down his style and began making messy, vibrant films that recall the finest works of Italian neo-realism. In Not One Less, Zhang fashions a gentle fable that highlights real failings in China's rapidly changing society. With an assidious attention to the details of everyday life and gritty documentary shooting style, Zhang depicts the dust and desperate poverty of Shuiquan Village while infusing the film with humor, whimsy and even heart-felt patroitism. Wei Minzhi -- a Zhang discovery who bares a passing resemblance to Gong Li -- gives a remarkable performance of as the relentlessly stubborn teenaged pedagogue who settles uneasily into her adult role. When she journeys to the big city to find her errant student, we see through her eyes the dizzying realities of the new urban China populated with such foreign accoutrements as Coca-Cola, Sony TVs, and mass media. When both protagonist and pupil are flat broke and sleeping on the streets, the film seems to be veering in the terrority of such grim urban dramas as Pixote, until -- somewhat improbably -- television, and the kindness of the masses, swoop to the aid of young Wei Minzhi and the film's wrongs are righted. What keeps this film from being overly maudlin and nationalistic is both the universalist scope of the film and Zhang's honest portrayal of his characters. A warm, engaging drama and a snapshot of the bifurcated realities of 1990s China, Not One Less is a modest film by a master director.