Somehow, thirteen year old Wei Minzhi, who appears unable to act her way out of a paper bag turns in the performance of a lifetime. Blushing, awkward body language, a drifting gaze, and an pre-adolescent thespian's grasp of dialog pacing, filmed docu-realistically, come together to create the most endearing character I've seen in a long time. The film employs nonprofessional actors throughout, mostly children, to amazing effect. It's painful to think that this film portrays a reality of rural China so the story all by itself will probably make you cry. Seeing the story presented by a cast of real people makes it all the more powerful. The stubborn persistence of Wei's character, at first unrealistic, becomes poetic and inspiring. The ending might seem a little contrived but if ever there was a story that deserved a happy ending it's this one. A remarkable film.
The film is set in the present, in a small village in Hebei province. When teacher Gao is called home to care for an ailing relative, the village mayor hires Wei Minzhi as Gao’s temporary replacement. Thirteen-year-old Wei is barely older than her students, and her teaching skills are next to nonexistent. But her stubbornness and determination know no bounds. Unsure that the mayor will pay her, Wei focuses on the ten yuan bonus that Gao offers her if all twenty-five students in the class are still there when he returns, and “not one less.”