There is something quintessentially middlebrow about the way that the work of Zhang Yimou (The Story of Qui Ju, etc.) is routinely saluted in America for its austerity — as if the abstract/opaque characterizations in a movie like Not One Less were windows into Asian exoticism. To be fair, there has been a government crackdown on filmmakers in China, and that may account for why this sugary morsel of a fable, about a 13-year-old substitute teacher obsessed with keeping her charges from dropping out of school, is as wispy as it is touching.
Wei Minzhi, playing a heroine named after herself, may look like a tenderfoot, but she’s got a cast-iron quixotic will. When a student runs away to the city, she goes there to find him — and won’t leave until she succeeds. Her fanatic persistence is never clearly explained, and so we’re left to view Wei as a dogged teen saint. Not One Less is pleasant enough, but it’s just feel-good neorealism.