It's a shame that not more people have seen this movie, judging by the amount of user comments and ratings. Now that director Yimou Zhang ('Hero' & 'House of Flying Daggers') has become more popular, I'm hoping this will change.
'Huozhe' or 'To Live' takes us on a trip in China that will last us from the 40's through the 70's. Through that time, we will see life through the eyes of Fugui and Jiazhen, a husband and wife with 2 children, as well as Fugui's mother.
Fugui, the husband, has a gambling problem which will set off a chain of events that will have them lose the house, and eventually separate the family. Jiazhen, his wife, is forced to take a job which will put a strain on her children. Communist and nationalist armies battle each other, and the rise of Chairman Mao will affect them as well. Fugui will go through layers of mishaps that will change him forever. I don't want to detail anything more about the plot, it's much more worth viewing it and experiencing it then anything I can ever say here.
Not once is this movie boring, effectively placing us there, with the family. The acting seems so natural that it feels like you are there, traveling with them, rather then viewing them through a camera. This of course shows the strength of Zhang's directing. You Ge plays Fugui, a popular actor in China, won the award for the Cannes Film Festival. Li Gong is beautiful, and portrays her character with such passion, it's no wonder she has been nominated nearly a dozen times, winning most.
Emotional without being sappy, honest, & historically accurate, the film does have a black shroud covering it. In times of sadness, it's lifted a bit to allow us to see happiness, indeed, life, pull this family together. It even has bits of humor in it, at times, I laughed along with the family as much as I felt their pain. Little details, such paintings in the background that chip away as time goes by, shows how much care went into making this film. Characters that seem unimportant become part of the story later.
What a wonderful film. When I saw it 10 years ago, it not only changed the way I saw foreign movies, it also changed the way I see life and people. Any movie that can do that is one I highly recommend to anyone.
A perfect 10 out of 10.
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