Mr. Lee is 93, born in the early part of the twentieth-century in the South of China. Coming from a modest peasant background, he has been a self-taught, independent soul all his life. He has managed to repeatedly reinvent himself, enabling him to live a varied and colorful existence; each reincarnation more fascinating than the last. Full of contradictions, and yet true to himself, he could almost be a living metaphor for the turbulence and transformations China underwent in the second half of last century.
Everything starts with his participation in the Korean War in the 50’s. China was fighting against the US alongside its communist North-Korean and Russian allies. The country lost almost one million of its young men, but Mr. Lee was one of the few soldiers to return home, wounded but safe. He spends the next 30 years as a farmer in his hometown, participating obediently in the countries agricultural evolution under Mao Zedong’s leadership. His third life begins when he quits the countryside leaving his family behind. In the city, homeless, he becomes a tramp, and lives out of garbage cans. It is at this time he acquires a real spiritual independence and begins to create his own vision of the world. After a chance meeting with an Arts student at Canton University, he is engaged and serves as a life model in painting classes, which allows him to make some money. Subsequently, a film director notices and engages him as an actor. In this fifth life he begins to work abroad, in the US and Great Britain. Over 4 long years he performes roles as “the poor Chinaman”. Ironically, this is happening while back home, the economic reforms launched by Deng Xiaoping were leading China to a new prosperity. Upon his return, he works again as a model at the Arts Institute and begins a relationship with a woman 40 years his junior. The new China, the one that is “winning”, is the theatre of his eighth experience: the life of a celebrity, all the while his take on China’s new consumerism and growing middle class becomes very critical.
After 93 years, Lee wants to reconnect to his roots. But as he returns to his native village, his eight sons and daughters from his peasant past are not pleased. They are quick to remind him that he abandoned them. On top of which he disgraced the family by appearing nude, as a model, in front of young students at arts school: according to them, this is something incompatible with “decent living”. Although he is their father, he cannot be part of their family anymore. So, in his ninth life, he has to confront prejudice again, just as before. But as always, he remains true to himself and takes up residence in the village, in an abandoned shack. He tells his family that he will look after himself, he doesn’t need their assistance. Does he nurture the secret hope they will change their mind? Or does he simply know that his roots, his native land cannot be denied? I will always be his roots, and ultimately, aren’t we all facing our final steps alone…?