The King of Masks

"An elderly street performer is offered a chance to practice his art with the Peking Opera. He refuses, wanting only to pass the tradition onto an hier of male descent. One night he is sold a boy only to find out later that the child is a girl." (text taken from Amazon)
Year Released
Running Time
101 min
Sony Pictures Home Ent
ISBN Number
Average: 4 (2 votes)


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The King of Kings Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Early care and education
Posted On: 12/01/2014

My name is Patty Graff and I teach adults who work in early care and education classrooms. The adults I work with teach in part day preschools, Head Start classrooms, full day child care/preschools, group home child cares and family day care homes. The adults all come to my classroom with a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have a degree in early childhood education, others with various college degrees, and still others only a high school degree. Some have worked in child care for many years and others only a few months. Topics of classes I teach, as well as classes taught by instructors I hire, cover content areas as identified by the State of Pennsylvania and the Keystone STARS Program.
The King of Masks is a compelling film that lets the viewer look into the lives of three separate characters; Wang an aging street performer, Liang a famous female impersonator and Doggie a homeless child and how they all impact each other’s lives.
Through music and quiet, but effective acting, viewers quickly sense the sad desperation of Wang as he struggles to follow the traditions of his culture to pass his skill to a male heir. Wang has no heir since his son died at the age of 10. Early in the film Wang is befriended by Liang, who becomes captivated by the street performer’s magic skills with masks. Liang invites Wang to join his acting troupe. Although humbled by the offer, the magician kindly declines. In parting Liang tells Wang, “Don’t let your magic die. Find yourself an heir.”
Filming allows the viewer to have the sense of walking with Wang as he goes to the streets where homeless families are dwelling, many offering to sell their children. One can sense the hopelessness of the children as they try to find someone to care for them while also feeling Wang’s anguish as he seeks to find a boy child to fulfill his dreams. Wang becomes charmed by one child whom he purchases. But joy quickly turns to devastation when Wang discovers the child is a girl.
This film helps the viewer learn, in a poignant, gentle and simple manner some of the deeply established customs and traditions of China. Although there are subtitles they are limited and just enough to help one fully understand what is occurring. The acting between the characters speaks volumes and the subtitles do not detract. It is a film that can be viewed by many ages, although probably not younger than 5 or 6. The ability to read would help but may not be necessary if the viewer is adept at following story lines from the action of a film. The film could be viewed in part, like episodes of a television show. This would allow the viewer time to comprehend what they have seen and to search for answers to possible questions. It would be a good film for generating questions and conversations lending itself to further discoveries of the Chinese culture.

A touching film about family and gender roles

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 01/19/2012

This is a very well-made film about a young homeless girl who so desperately wants to be taken in by an elderly male street performer that she is willing to pretend to be a boy in order to legitimately become his heir and learn his art. It shows elaborate scenes of a long-ago China that both emphasize Confucian values, gender roles, and family, and in general this is a great film with a moving plot, although the rampant sexism of the past may make some female viewers upset. The old man's artful masks could make a great tie-in with other activities about the role of masks in Chinese culture (including Peking opera, color symbolism, etc.).