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ENCORE

This is not something that happens all that often but maybe in a more perfect world it would: a superb, rending Chinese film that was among the first brought to us by the short-lived Angelika Film Center (before it packed up its fixtures and left it for Dipson to re-open as the Market Arcade) is now being brought back to the North Park Theater to have the kind of film exhibition it always deserved. It seems that in the interim between now and July of last year, Wu Tianming's "King of Masks" has picked up a substantial band of partisans across the country who recognize it for the beautiful, emotionally devastating film that it is.

It's about a hardened itinerant old street performer in China's Sichuan district in the 1930s who is the absolute master of his carnival art. He can, without using his hands, somehow make a succession of beautiful, hand-painted masks appear on his face. The mandarins of the Chinese opera beg him to teach them his secrets but he declines. He works alone and prefers it that way.

But so profound and passionate is the desire of Wang (played by Zhu Xu, above) to pass on his recondite art that he buys an 8-year-old boy who is offered to him in the street. His real son, 20 years earlier, had died at age 10. What happens when the old man discovers that his substitute son is really a magical and preternaturally gifted daughter passing as a boy is the heart of this wrenching and remarkable movie. Seldom has a movie encore been more called for.

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