Boasting superb central performances from Ge You and the astonishing Gong Li, Zhang Yimou's TO LIVE is truly epic in its historical scope while retaining the emotional intimacy of such earlier masterworks as RED SORGHUM, JU DOU, and RAISE THE RED LANTERN.
The eldest son of a prominent local family, Fugui (Ge You) is indolent by nature but passionate about gambling. Although his wife, Jiazhen (Gong Li), threatens to leave him, Fugui soon loses his family's fortune and is reduced to selling thread on the street. With the long-suffering Jiazhen,
Fugui struggles to hold his family together through years of social turmoil, coping with a harrowing stint in the Nationalist Army and the brutal upheavals of Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Visually, TO LIVE is surprisingly straightforward, even static, lacking the cinematic sweep of Chen Kaige's FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE. Instead, Zhang has created a domestic drama on an epic scale, choosing to view historic events through the lens of a nuclear family. He's also chosen to focus on
performances, and his two stars don't disappoint. Known for her breathtaking beauty and spitfire intensity, Gong Li once again confirms her status as one of the screen's most affecting actresses. Ge You is a revelation: he delivers a subtle, beautifully nuanced, and deeply humane performance for
which he was honored as Best Actor at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
Although TO LIVE raised the hackles of the Chinese government during its production (Zhang was subsequently banned from participating in any foreign co-productions), it is not by any means an attack on the PRC; still, it doesn't flinch from depicting the fearful consequences of Mao's utopianism.
The film's greatest achievement transcends partisan politics: TO LIVE breathes new and persuasive life into what has a become a humanist cliche, depicting the triumph of the human spirit as the ability to persevere, if not exactly flourish, under the most difficult conditions.
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Boasting superb central performances from Ge You and the astonishing Gong Li, Zhang Yimou's TO LIVE is truly epic in its historical scope while retaining the emotional intimacy of such earlier masterworks as RED SORGHUM, JU DOU, and RAISE THE RED LANTERN.… (more)