Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 128: To Live (1994) - Rank 4.5/5


I found this film in my hands at the behest of my friend Josh, who happens to be a Chinese cinema buff. His fandom for the genre is partially due to the fact that his wife is from the country and often picks what films the two of them are to watch. Little did I know at the time that the picture featured the work of two of my favorite individuals from the Hollywood of the East - Yimou Zhang and Gong Li. Zhang has brought some of the most colorful spectacles to the screen that I've ever seen, such as "House of Flying Daggers" and "Hero" (the latter being the very last film I saw at Showcase Cinemas Bardstown on its infamous screen #1 on the business' closing day - perfect film!).

The director's eye for color is ever-present in this simple fable of a spoiled rake who learns to appreciate life and his family after he loses everything else. The scene is set in the early forties where simple Fugui (You Ge) gambles his family fortune away, losing his family's vast estate and nearly losing his wife Jiazhen (Gong Li). Out of pity, the victor of the gambling spree bequeaths his collection of silken puppets to Fugui and those puppets not only help him win back his family and support them through two children, but they also prevent him from being killed during China's communist revolt (if you can believe that). Prior to Mao's reign, the costumes and streets are a sea of numerous colors, but after China sets into its Communist regime, it's all tan and red. It's difficult to determine whether this shift in color from the dazzling to the drab is intended as a political commentary, but based on some of the other events that unfold through the late fifties and sixties, methinks Zhang was not a major fan of Mao.

Gong Li is absolutely superb as Jiazhen. I humbly admit I rather fell in love with the Asian beauty after the neo-noir "2046" and the epic "Emperor and the Assassin." While early in her career, she still succeeds in playing a poor woman (over the course of three decades) who has faced one calamity after the next in her life, yet still looks to the positive. You Ge works perfectly as her equal/husband. Granted, the film can be seen as a bit overly sentimental at times, it's still a powerful tale that looks at the strength of love for family over hardship.

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