Give a Timely "Shower" of Love

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, May 10, 2007

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review: Shower (

Singapore -- The multiple award-winning "Shower" (or "Xizao") is a remarkable feat in filmmaking - for it is as profoundly unassuming as it is profoundly touching. Moving but never mushy, it sits on the Middle Path. It tells a tale of the inevitability of change - of "the times", and of "our time".

Yet it also gently reminds us that despite the harshness of changes, what remains unchanging, in this present life at least, is our familial connections. Like they say, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." Though in a way, we chose our present family via our created karma. Then again, why should we differentiate much between family and friends? Why can't family be friends? Given the Buddhist belief that we must have been each other's relatives in the myriad rounds of rebirth, which friend isn't family?

"Shower" demonstrates the tension between familial obligations and personal aspirations. Sometimes, family seems to get in our way, when we cannot get our way with our family. But does it has to be so? The film is a nicely balanced bittersweet tragicomedy - of family estrangement and reconciliation. A son (Daming, played by Pu Quan Xin) visits his old father (Master Liu, played by Zhu Xu) and younger brother (Erming, played by Jiang Wu), having mistaken his father to have passed away. Relieved that it isn't true, he decides to stay for a few days, rationalising his arrival as a visit without agenda, purely out of concern to see how they are faring. This is much to the delight of his mentally-challenged brother, though his father knows better that the visit isn't genuine. Daming feels awkward at first, having lost touch with the old-fashioned bathhouse they used to live in, mildly anxious to return to his "real" and more affluent life elsewhere.

Seeing the "antique" bathhouse, the audience might think that the Chinese invented the "modern" spa, for it offers many now familiar services - under one roof. There are warm tubs, pedicure, barber and massage services. The kindly father even provides peace-keeping counselling and physiotherapy "services" to his customers, most of whom are friendly old folks, who take their time to play chess and drink tea. It wasn't merely a place to take a bath - it was a community - soon to be disbanded, as the district has to be torn down for developing a shopping mall. The father resigns mindfully to the impending changes. He thoughtfully remarks while repairing the roof, that old houses, like the body, cannot be repaired indefinitely. Old age and death will overtake us. Such is the nature of impermanence which pervades our lives. As Stonepeace put it, "Making peace with change makes unchanging peace."

Catch it at the Asian Buddhist Film Festival (Singapore) 2007

Ironically, we see the father and his Erming connecting with each other more, as compared as with Daming. They enjoy playing childish games with each other, while Daming watches - gladly amused yet distant. Perhaps a simpler mind means simpler joys, though a mind lacking wisdom leads to suffering more easily too. Then again, the convoluted mind brings much suffering too. We need to abide somewhere between these extremes. Used to efficiency, the son from the city introduces electronic massaging gadgetry to his father, and rejects using the tub initially, preferring a quick shower. Food for thought - What are we rushing for in life? Is it worth it? Will we reach our real goal of True Happiness any faster than before? Does modern technology make living more efficient or cold, or worse still, more efficiently cold? Surely, humans need the human connection.

When Daming accidentally "loses" Erming in a city crowd, his father laments that Daming shouldn't have visited them, that they were doing just fine, that he couldn't afford to "lose" another son, now that he has already "lost" Daming... to the city. Fortunately, Erming finds his way home, while Daming still didn't feel totally at home. After extending stay to help out at the bathhouse, Daming decides it's time to really return to this "real" home, announcing that he would return to visit more often. While offering to scrub his father's back, he passes away peacefully in a tub. It turns out that he was ill for a long time already - and neither Daming nor Erming knew about it. By an ironic twist, Daming had returned in case he really died. That would really be "too late", but what happens is he really returned in time. He had managed to reconnect to his father before his sudden passing. He even connects with Erming - he truly becomes a son and brother.  

Watching a documentary on television about how beetles literally sacrifice their lives for their young, Daming realises how much his father had done to bring him up. Initially ashamed of his brother being mentally-challenged, he calls his wife to apologise for having kept it a secret, informing her that he wishes to take care of his brother, that he would need to live with them. It would be what his father wanted too. "Shower" is about remembering forgotten gratitude and loyalty. Responsibility need not become a burden - it can be a labour of love. May we see all as our friends and family, for the Bodhisattva path is to see all as kin, to love all unconditionally, without selfish restraint. 

The father told a tale of how folks living in distant lands face great difficulties in getting a bath. In Tibet, so it is said, there is a holy lake ? which can cleanse both body and "mind". It can even cure ailments. Of course, no waters can truly purify our defilements or bring enlightenment - other than "drinking" the sweet nectar of the Dharma. At least once in a lifetime, folks make a pilgrimage to walk for months to take a bath the lake. The old man remarks that sometimes, taking a simple bath can be this difficult. Yes, sometimes, what we take for granted is not taken for granted by others - this would include how we connect with our family and friends. Like Daming and company, it is never too late to reconnect.

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