A film--at least ostensibly--about blindness, LIFE ON A STRING contains some of the most stunning images in recent screen history, beautifully capturing the thundering waterfalls, sparkling mountain ranges and mistfallen crags of China's Shaanxi Province.
The setting is feudal China, where a sightless old musician, known simply as the Saint (Liu Zhongyuan), wanders purposefully with his young, equally blind apprentice, Shitou (Huang Lei). As a youth the Saint was disciple to Grand Master, who told him that if he spent his days in ceaseless practice
on the sanxian (a long-necked banjo), his blindness would end. All the Saint had to do was break 1,000 strings in the course of playing. That task has consumed 60 years, and the count has reached the 990s. Meanwhile, Shitou yearns for earthier pleasures, mainly in the form of a peasant girl named
Lanxiu (Xu Qing). The Saint disapproves, but is ultimately forced to reconsider his own, unquestioning faith in the rigid moral code by which he has lived.
LIFE ON A STRING presents itself as an epic fable whose precise moral has been lost to the ages, allowing many meanings to be read into its dense spectacle. Kaige composes each frame with an artisan's care. He restricts his camera movements to slow, formal pans and lengthy takes that slow down the
narrative, but impart a mythic quality to the material. Most impressive is a lyrical series of long shots in which the Saint stops a war between two clans by hobbling into the midst of opposing armies and singing about peace and brotherhood. As the legendary minstrel's frail voice fills the
soundtrack, the warriors unite around him to form a single, mighty procession. Though at times ponderous and obscure, LIFE ON A STRING leaves a lasting impression on the eye.
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: A film--at least ostensibly--about blindness, LIFE ON A STRING contains some of the most stunning images in recent screen history, beautifully capturing the thundering waterfalls, sparkling mountain ranges and mistfallen crags of China's Shaanxi Province.… (more)