Chinese peasant is given the responsibility of protecting his village's special dairy cow during a particularly harsh winter in 1940. Chinese historical comedies made for domestic release are often weighed down by showy costumes, goofy irrelevance or ideological conformity (not to mention the necessity of passing censorship). Not The Cow. This black comic fable starts with an episode from World War II and spins an absurdly hilarious and touching fantasy. At its core: a solidarity between man and cow that is indomitable, even glorious.
Man in this case is Niu Er (played by Huang Bo, currently Chinese commercial cinema's most popular actor), a wild-haired, sing-song-voiced farmer. Cow is a European import, a super milk cow from Holland, donated to a dumbfounded but grateful Chinese village in Shandong province in the 1930s. But the inhabitants can barely keep up with all the milk the fecund bovine produces. When the Japanese army attacks and wipes out almost all of the villagers, what was a picaresque rural romp turns to dark adventure. Niu Er and his cow, an unlikely invincible team, hide from the Japanese, then join the resistance. Their bumbling ways turn implausibly heroic, mixing in an exhilarating way a sweet innocence and wild humour with a furious thirst for survival.