The King of Masks

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The King of Masks
American DVD cover
Directed byWu Tianming
Written byWei Minglun
StarringZhu Xu
Zhou Renying
Zhao Zhigang
Music byZhao Jiping
CinematographyMu Da-Yuan
Distributed byHong Kong:
Shaw Brothers
United States:
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date
Running time
101 min. (China)
91 min. (USA)

The King of Masks (simplified Chinese: 变脸; traditional Chinese: 變臉; pinyin: Biàn Liǎn) is a 1996 Chinese film directed by Wu Tianming.


In 1930's China, Wang is The King of Masks, an aged street performer who practices the change-mask opera art of bian lian. He laments that he has no male heirs to carry on his mysterious and complicated art and trade. At an illegal child market, Wang buys what he believes to be an orphan boy to become his adopted grandson and apprentice.

However, Wang soon learns his new disciple is in fact a girl. As tradition dictates that he cannot pass his art onto a girl, he tries to abandon her, but she stubbornly stays with him. He later calls her "doggie" and has her refer to him as "boss". He then begins to train her to be a flexible contortionist street performer. While looking at his masks, she accidentally sets his humble residence on fire. Out of guilt, she runs away. She is then captured by two men and held in a room with a boy to be sold later. Doggie helps the boy escape and takes him to Wang to have as a grandson.

Then, Wang is falsely accused of kidnapping the boy, a rich family's child, and is thrown in jail. Doggie goes to one of her friends, a famous performer in the local opera, threatening to kill herself if he or any of his guests, including a local military general, are unable to help Wang. The King of Masks is eventually freed, and he finally accepts the girl as his granddaughter and teaches her his art.


The film won a number of awards at various film festivals around the world. It was released in the United States on June 13, 1999 on a limited theatrical release and earned about one million US dollars.[citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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