Exquisite family saga set in the days just before the People's
Revolution. A man loses his family's ancestral home to a gambling debt, leaving his
entire family homeless and penniless. Now despised by his family, he forms a performing
troupe, using shadow puppets given to him by his debtor. He performs for the
Nationalist Army. One morning, he oversleeps and awakes to find that the Red Army
has advanced around him. He makes a seamless transition and becomes a
"Peoples" performer. One of the most impressive scenes in the film is
that of the People's Liberation Army advancing on foot as you can imagine that millions of
Chinese saw them, pouring over the horizon. He uses his accidental association with
the Red Army to cover up his bourgeoisie past, and reunites with his family. Upon
witnessing the execution of his former debtor, he comes to the realization that, for him,
it is "good luck" to be poor.
This film allows one who has wondered what it must have been like to live
through the days of the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward to reach a
tentative understanding. A family struggles "to live". Sets and
costumes were exceptional, as was the cinematography. There were remarkable
performances by all cast members, especially by Ge You, who won the award for Best Actor
at Cannes Film Festival (1994) for his portrayal of Fugui, the main character. Gong
Li, delivered another strong performance for her then husband, director Zhang Yimou.
China not only banned the film, but issued a two-year ban on Zhang Yimou and Gong Li
working together on any new projects. We can only speculate as to the affects of
this pressure on the (now terminated) marriage.
Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film - Hong Kong (1995).
Runtime: 133 minutes.
"I saw this movie on ""Bravo"" and did
not know the name of it , as it was not listed in my tv paper. It was one one the best
movies I had ever seen. There are not many movies I like, so you know it had to be good. I
don't usually watch a movie over again either, but I cannot wait to get my hands on a
copy, so that I can watch again. AND, I don't usually watch subtitled movies, but this was
just absolutley great. Loved it."
From: "Nick Chapman"
""To Live" begins just before Liberation (what the Chinese
call their revolution) and follows one family through to the present era, along the way
addressing the war for liberation, the impact of Mao's Great Leap Forward, and the
Cultural Revolution - a period which is still being assimilated into Chinese
In following this one family through all of this, Zhang produces an account of communist
Chinese history, hitting all the really major events and showing their impact on people's
daily lives. It is a wonder he was allowed to make it, because it is quite critical. I
suspect, though, that the criticism was muted for the Chinese censors, at least initially,
by the resilient commitment of the family to communist China, in spite of all their
tragedies - which all fall within the orbit of acknowledged errors or deviations from the
But the final product was a bit much, and was not, I think, allowed to be screened in
China for quite some time.
It is interesting to note that Zhang was able to sit out the Cultural Revolution in
Beijing, while the other very famous Fifth Generation filmmaker, Chen Kaige, for whom
Zhang initially worked as cinematographer, was one of those urbanites sent out to the
countryside in order to transform both himself and the rural areas. Chen worked in Yunnan
province, in a place very much like that show in his YELLOW EARTH, and the comparison of
that film to Zhang's early work is striking.
But to return to Zhang and TO LIVE. TO LIVE was made between The Story of Qiu Ju and
Shanghai Triad, both of which also star Gong Li, but are set within a much more limited
time and place. In that sense, To Live is Zhang's most expansive movie. It is also worth
comparing to a number of other Chinese movies made around the same time, which also turned
to the grand sweep of history for the setting of their drama, most notably, Farewell My
Concubine, by Chen Kaige. Then comparing Chen's Temptress Moon with Zhang's Shanghai
Triad, one begins to see a pattern of the two directors following the same path. It's
really quite interesting, but probably all over because of the changes in China and the
Chinese film industry, and because Chen is clearly hoping to break out of the ghetto of
Chinese film, while Zhang is committed to staying in China, and finally because Zhang and
Gong Li have irrevocably split, ending one of the greatest pairings of director and star
in cinema history, right up there with Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune."
"I am currently studying Chinese cinema as part of a media degree. I would
like to express how much I enjoyed 'To Live'. For anyone who has never thought about
watching a film such as this, it comes highly recommended by me. For those of you who have
seen it and would like to see more, may I recommend 'Raise The Red Lantern' and 'Red
Sorghum', also directed by Zhang Yimou. Happy watching!!!!!!"
From: "Joe Witt"
"Yeah, this movie rocks."
".. a real treat" "Haven't seen such a wonderful movie in a long time...great characters and a tear jerking tragic story
of a struggling family in China. The director/cinematographer did an excellent job in capturing the
heart and soul of the chinese communist revolution of the 40-60s'....history couldn't be any better
portrayed! highly recommended to all"
"TO LIVE IS TO DIE FOR!"
"I think this is one of the best movies this director has made yet. However, do not watch this movie alone or without your prozac. I pride myself on being the stoic nonemotional male-type, but I balled like a little baby at the end. This poor family: haven't they been through
"Recently, I watched ""To Live"" for the second time, and I remained impressed. This is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time. Zhang has a beautiful way with the camera, and he treats his subjets with love and respect. The performances shine, and Zhang makes some very keen observations about life under communism, without being over the top. His criticism seems very subtle, and comes off less as criticism, and more as a simple aknowledgement of reality. Zhang is a superb director, and this is my favorite of his many many
"This is truly a theatrical treasure of our time. To live accurately
portrays the roles of the average Chinese ""comrads"" during the Communist
revolution in China. The best part about this movie though is it's display of
both positive and negative effects of the revolution. The actors are
tantalizing, the plot well scripted, and the themes and setting blend in with
everything else to make for a wonderful movie."
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