1994, NR Directed by Zhou Xiaowen. Starring Ai Liya, Liu Peiqi, Ge Zhijun, Zhang Haiyan.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., July 28, 1995
Chinese director Zhou Xiaowen's Ermo is an intriguing blend of sly irony and occasional outbursts of physical comedy, much like its namesake character, who is deftly played by Alia. Ermo's story illustrates the universal and timeless struggle of the individual in a consumer society. Living next door to Blindman (Liu Peiqi) and his “slackass” wife complicates Ermo's life because of their 27-inch color television. Ermo's son becomes enamored of this ultimate symbol of consumer culture, spending most of his free time at the neighbors'. The television and the family's apparent disposable income grate on Ermo's nerves as she daily schleps her twisty noodles to sell at the local market. The sole breadwinner in the household, Ermo has nothing but contempt for her old and weak husband Chief (Ge Zhijun), who was once the titular head of the village. Frustrated by her neighbor's privileged status as solely a housewife and further aggravated by her son's frequent visits to watch the neighbors' television, Ermo becomes obsessed with buying a 29-inch set -- a television so big that even the head of the county cannot afford one. When Blindman secures Ermo a high-paying job making noodles in a city restaurant, she begins her quest in earnest. A kitchen accident in which a fellow worker needs blood donations introduces Ermo to the true meaning of blood money, and she sidelines as a daily contributor to the local hospital to supplement her wages. Despite Ermo's misguided actions and thought processes, Alia's portrayal of her as a tough but believable character makes her interesting and somehow sympathetic. Her motives for wanting the television are suspect, but her dedication to the cause is admirable. Cinematographer Lu Gengxin's mix of ordinary domestic scenes and moodily lit shots such as Ermo's nighttime kneading of noodle dough injects some adrenaline into an occasionally overplotted narrative. Although Ermo is Zhou's ninth film, it is the only one to be distributed in the United States. With this film we are introduced to a director with a talent for thoughtfully examining weighty cultural issues without taking the characters or their plights too seriously.