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To Live (1994)

Cast: Ge You, Ge You, Gong Li, more...
Director: Zhang Yimou, Zhang Yimou
    see all cast/crew...
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: MGM
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Politics and Social Issues, China
Running Time: 133 min.
Languages: Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
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This title is currently out of print.

Zhang Yimou, often regarded as China's leading contemporary filmmaker, directed this drama chronicling the ebb and flow of one family's fortunes, set against the backdrop of China's tumultuous history between the 1940s and the 1970s. Fugui (Ge You) is the father of a once-wealthy family whose addiction to gambling and chronic bad luck causes him to lose his home in a game of dice with Long'er (Ni Dabong). Fugui's wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) abandons him, and he finds himself working as a peddler, until the man who now owns his home gives him a pair of shadow puppets. Fugui learns the art of puppetry and travels as a performer; while on the road, he is arrested by Nationalist forces, until he is liberated by advancing Red Army factions, and he comes him home to his wife and children as they adapt to the nation's new leadership. While once a lazy spendthrift, Fugui vows to change his ways, and he struggles to become a better worker and citizen. But Fugui and his family soon realize that there is adversity waiting for them around every corner, and the onset of the Cultural Revolution makes it clear that China's new regime can be as corrupt and callous as the old order. While a Grand Prize winner at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and recipient of the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 1995 BAFTA Awards, Huozhe did not fare well in its homeland. Chinese censors objected to the film's commentary about political abuses in China's past, as well as Zhang Yimou's attempts to present the film at several international festivals. As punishment, he was forced to write a formal apology and was not allowed to make another film for two years. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Tragedy in moderation by elvlee May 2, 2004 - 3:58 PM PDT
9 out of 9 members found this review helpful
Zhang Yimou proves once again that he is one of the great storytellers of our time. "To Live" follows the life and times of one family through 3 decades of political turmoil in China.

A fact that is often overlooked by viewers this film and others like (Joy Luck Club, etc.) is that this is -- believe it or not -- not far from the average Chinese family's story. When one watches Joy Luck Club, for example, one often cannot help but be struck by the level tragedy which befalls one family. However, because of the incredible amount of turmoil and revolution that China has endured in the last 100 years alone, that amount of tragedy is altogether too common. I learned this as I grew older, and discovered that both my family and my friends' families had similar pasts and histories which they had managed to escape and overcome.

For this reason, "To Live" is a particularly well painted picture of life in those times. To begin with, you don't have to be prepared for a super-sobfest to watch this film. As I said, tragedy in moderation. The film is sad, there is no doubt about that, but it is not sad for the sake of being sad, nor would I call it tragic. In addition, culturally speaking most families will never tell of such sordid affairs to non-family members -- both because they wish to 'save face', and because often have been raised to believe their stories are unexceptional (and thus not worthy of being told). Because of this, the works of storytellers such as Zhang Yimou are all the more important, lest these stories go untold and lost forever.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.82)
92 Votes
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