18 July 2002 | alsolikelife
Easily, one of the best Chinese films ever made.
If you've ever wondered what the Chinese version of FORREST GUMP looked like, here's a fascinating account of 50 tumultuous years of early 20th century Chinese history seen through the eyes of a nameless, impoverished Beijing resident. Like Forrest Gump, he adheres almost blindly to the prevailing (traditional) sentiments of his national culture, but unlike that feel-good blockbuster that swept the conflicts of American history under the rug of warm nostalgia, this masterpiece finds as many faults as virtues with its hero's simple-mindedness. In his youth he is employed as a policeman and as such becomes witness to pervasive corruption by the Imperial powers who employ him; the Nationalist and Japanese regimes that follow don't fare much better. In fact, in what is supposed to be another Communist propaganda movie, the Communists aren't portrayed in too flattering a light either. In sum, I've rarely come across a film that explores how a nation's culture allows for social injustices to be repeated time after time; the way these injustices are depicted have a devastating cumulative impact. Those who think Zhang Yimou's TO LIVE is the last word on Chinese history epics should reserve their judgment until they're fortunate enough to come across this unexpected treasure. Sadly, the director and star of the film, Shi Hui, took his own life seven years later under persecution as a political reactionary, at the age of 42. Had he been able to live and work, who knows how great his reputation may have become.