Better Lead a Tough Life Than Die Young ,I dunno whether it’s a precise translation of the Chinese idiom 好死不如赖活 or not. But it does precisely show us what the movie To Live (活着) mainly about.I really wonder how can the director Zhang YiMou (张艺谋)’s another movie Hero be rated as #178 of Top 250. It’s really a boring sword film and the way of story telling is just a copy of Akira Kurosawa‘s Rashômon. To Live should be one of the greatest Chinese film all time,and thx to the eDonkey network, i have the fortune of watching this great movie which’s banned in China for some ridiculous reason.
FuGui (Ge You) is a local rich man’s son who likes gambling dispite of his wife JiaZhen (Gong Li)’s protestion. But one night his whole life changed, his wife JiaZhen couldnt stand his gambling any more and left him with his daugter Fengxia and unborn son YouQing, and that night he gambled away all of his family’s property including his house, his father was so angry that suddently died, his mother fell into terrible illness. FuGui became a nothing-man from a rich. And this’s the beginning of his tough life.
After hearing that FuGui lost everything over a night, the virtuous JiaZhen decided to back to FuGui and take care of his ill mother. FuGui finally realized how important the family was. And he started to lead a life by performing shadow puppet with his partner ChunSheng. At that time, the Chinese Civil War was about to the end as Kuomingtang (国民党) lost their battles, Chiang Kai-shek (蒋介石) had to take his army to Taiwan. In the way of running-away, FuGui and ChungSheng were arrested by the Kuomingtang’s army and forced to go with ’em. FuGui missed his family so much that he said to himself, to live was the most important. As the Kuomingtang’s army was defeated by the People’s Liberation Army, FuGui and ChunSheng were set to free and finally FuGui got back to his family.
After the Communist victory, China finally cames to a real liberated country without invasion. FuGui was defined as a “townsfolk in poverty”, the government gave his wife JiaZhen a job so their family could continue their lives. It seemed everything was going to be okay,FuGui and his wife JiaZhen, mute daugter FengXia, young son YouQing was leading a peaceful life.
As the story moved forward to the new decade — Great Leap Forward (大跃进), the Chinese chairman Mao called up all of the people into the movement of Producing Steel (大炼钢),every family should attend this movement and produce as much steel as they can (even put their own daily-use iron pans and bycycles into the backyard furnace). FuGui‘s son YouQing was also asked to attend this movement by the school. YouQing hadnt slept well in this movement for days. He fell asleep against the brick wall of the school, later, the district head accidentally backs a truck into the wall. FuGui‘s son was crushed and killed. FuGui and JiaZhen bursted into sadness for losing their only son. What more unacceptable is the district head turned out to be ChunSheng, the old partner of FuGui. JiaZhen couldnt forgive ChunSheng for killing her only son accidently, and shouted and cried to ChunSheng: Remember, you owes us a life..
Times went go as the China moved into another dark era — Culture Revolution (文化大革命), some of the innocent people were captured as being said to be capitalist. Red Guards (红卫兵) took the factories,schools and hospitals in the name of Mao’s declaration. All of the old things must be destroyed, most of the teachers, professors and district chiefs were said to be capitalists and sent to the jails. So did ChunSheng and the hospital’s professor doctor. FuGui‘s mute pregant daugter Fengxia was about to have a baby. She was sent to the hospital, but FuGui and JiaZhen were quite worried that the young student nurces (Red Guards) were too inexperienced to take the operation.So they asked FengXia‘s husband ErXi to take the hospital’s prefessor doctor to here from the jail for overseeing the birth.But the doctor hadnt eaten for 3 days, FuGui bought him 7 steamed buns (馒头). The young student nurces couldnt manage to operate, FengXia succeed to have the baby,but she kept bleeding, the young student nurces all got panic, ErXi and FuGui ran to the professor doctor for help, but he had overeaten and was semiconscious. The whole family was so helpless,watching their daugter dying painfully.
As the movie came to the end, the family consists of FuGui,JiaZhen,their son-in-law ErXi and FengXia‘s son Mantou. FuGui said to his grandson: A chick is raised to be a goose, a goose is raised to be a sheep,a sheep is raised to be a cattle..as the cattle being raised up,Mantou is growing up,too. The family finally survived and led a peaceful life…
To Live shows us the people’s fate during the changing time of China. It’s quite unimaginable how people could lead such a tough life in the old time. To survive is their only meaning of life. Zhang YiMou found his own way of telling the history of China — thru a common family’s life in the old time of China. And it does not just shows us the history,but also reflects the Chinese traditional family conception : Family is the most important ( quite the same as the Italian Mafia’s :D ). Lots of people may think the people in those days of Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are quite ridiculous and foolish, but we have to admit the people in those days are so guileless and unselfish, holding the same faith,trying their best to make a better future and greater country. Can we be the same way as they did?
Zhao JiPing did quite well on the music part, the music really made me into the mood of sadness and sympathy. We know it’s a tragedy even without knowing the story, the music has already told us everything.
To Live also reminds me of another Chinese movie Farewell my Concubine (霸王别姬) by Cheng KaiGe (陈凯歌). These two movies both talks about the people’s fate and the changing history of China. I always rate these two as the greatest Chinese films all time.
Plus…I have to say the Hong Kong movies really suck! I used to be Hong Kong movie fan, and dont have the patience of watching Chinese mainland film. But now my attitude has been totally changed, most of the Hong Kong movies are made for the commercial purpose and consist of so-called big star who dont even know how to act. But the Chinese mainland films are quite loyal to the art itself,and the actores know how to act precisely. So spend some times on the mainland film,they’re really worth for the 2 hrs movie time!