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  • 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.
  • This is Zhang Yimou's and Gong Li's crowning triumph -- a top candidate for the greatest Chinese film of all time. Splendidly photographed and composed, consumately acted and faithfully scored, "To Live" is a three or four hour film novel lovingly packed into two hours and fifteen minutes. For a long time, Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander" stood by itself as the greatest family epic in my moviegoing experience. "The Best Years of Our Lives" ran a distant second. But since 1995 "To Live" has moved into a very close second.

    Most Chinese who lived through Mao's Revolution say this film tells it like it was at the simple townsperson level. Though it can serve as an overview of Chinese history 1944 to 1970 or so, unlike Lean's "Gandhi" or "Lawrence of Arabia", this is not a hero's biopic. Instead we see a foolish, once rich but now fallen heir and his wife blown about by the winds of fortune for three decades and challenged as parents trying to raise two children under increasingly harsh and punitive communist tyranny. What you sense in this film, that I've never seen before in any Chinese film, is how the ethical and moral principles that have prevailed in Chinese culture for 2500 years - a mix of transcendence and pragmatism, humility and grit, cosmic harmonic balance and social duty - allows an ordinary couple to accept unbearable tragedy and keep going. It also shows what this survival strategy costs them in their Communist context. The screenplay is full of cosmic irony. It makes us aware, without shouting, that this is just one family among millions. As Yimou's transitional screen message says: "...leaving no family unaffected". It is to that extent, a tribute film.

    Maybe ten hours of Kieslowski's "Decalogue" might accomplish the same broad survey of of human happenstance and emotion. Maybe Kurosawa in three or four hours. But never in two plus hours have I seen the scope Zhang Yimou achieves here. "To Live" also contains as wise a moral lesson as any film I've seen, and it's a gentle one despite the surrounding violence. I couldn't paraphrase the lesson for you. I wouldn't try. Just watch. It will reach you non-verbally in about 90 minutes. Just know, this isn't Shakespeare, Hollywood or soap opera. It's something else.

    Gong Li's work is as powerful as anything Streep or Sarandon have ever done in the west - which is all the more inspiring since the camera doesn't lavish star-level attention on her. As her husband, Ge You turns in an emotionally riveting, charming, sometimes funny and devastatingly honest performance. The direction is sure handed, the shooting unfailingly gorgeous. Zhang Yimou's cinematic canvass has never been so big or his palette so colorful and controlled. Full of spectacle, great sweeps of time and onrushing tides of humanity, "To Live" is still, in the end, a sweet and poignant epic with an intimate, observant heart. Great story telling. Do not miss! Try to view a letterbox version on a big screen.
  • When I re-watched FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE recently I was surprised that it was much less political than I remembered it being. Turns out that's because I'd somehow merged together that film and TO LIVE together in my poor muddled brain. Both have some similarities, beyond the common appearance of Gong Li in front and Zhang Yimou behind the camera, but TO LIVE definitely confronts the political (I should really say "social") aspects of the decades they cover much more directly and forcefully.

    TO LIVE (aka LIFETIMES - I dunno what the Chinese name is) basically covers 3 or 4 decades of one family's life in China, in a period that saw not one but two revolutions, and looks at the effect the social upheaval had on ordinary people's lives. The film rarely criticises the political movements instigated by Mao Tse Tung, but does an effective job of showing the hellishness of a society that has been turned on its head, where the people are forced to change not just the way they live but the way they think, and people are forced into social relationships that are new, and quite possibly against human nature.

    I hope I won't jeapordise my visa if I admit that I had strong leanings towards Communism when I was younger, having read Marx in philosophy classes. His picture of a society without private possessions or social hierarchy did seem very appealing, but Marx acknowledged that the only way for such a society to work was if every member saw the value of it and willingly took part in it, and admitted that the only way that was likely to happen was via massive revolution - i.e. killing everyone that didn't agree with the plan. As a teenager, that didn't seem like such a big price or problem

    Certainly I'm not the only person to have considered this price worth paying, and a couple of people have actually put the plan into practice - lamentably with less than stellar results. Mao Tse Tung is, I guess, the undisputed king of Communist revolution, having led TWO of them in China, and probably disrupting more peoples' lives than anybody else in history in the process. TO LIVE gives those of us that haven't had to live through such conditions some idea of what it might have been like. People used to the cushy capitalist western lifestyle might wonder just how on earth people can live through conditions like that, but that's the what the film wants to say... life might deal you some crappy hands, but people are remarkably adaptable and resilient, and you've just got to try to live the best you can. It sounds remarkably trite put like that, but the film does a good job of expressing it.

    The film is based on a novel, with the author co-writing the screenplay as well. Zhang Yimou directs brilliantly as usual, which in this case is to recognise the strength of the story and characters and to back off a little, giving them space to live their lives. Although the film looks great throughout, the cinematography is quite unobtrusive. He once more elicits a great performance from Gong Li and the rest of the cast, with leading man Ge You giving the best one of all. The film has occasionally been criticised for throwing piling too much tragedy on, but this is never done in an exploitative/manipulative way, and Zhang Yimou avoids turning to melodrama to evoke an audience reaction... which makes him all the more likely to get one (and without the audience feeling used afterwards).

    In a career full of magnificent films, TO LIVE stands as one of Zhang Yimou's finest moments. The film is epic yet remarkably simple, and the execution is as near to flawless as I've seen. I doubt that even Akira Kurosawa could have handled the material better, which is to say that Zhang Yimou surely ranks in the world's top echelon of film-makers. Long may his life and career continue

    Highest recommendation!
  • This is the best movie that I have ever seen.

    I watched this movie because I was taking a class on the politics of China. When I saw that this movie covered such an expansive time period I thought "great, I will learn something." That I did. I cried, I cheered, I stayed up very late... I made my then future husband watch it... he liked it too, not as much as I do.

    I tell everyone in conversations about movies that this one is my all time favorite. It took the place of American Beauty, a movie that I have watched about eleven times.

    So, I recommend it. If I had a lot of money I would pay people to watch this. It is THAT great.
  • Yimou Zhang's "To Live" begins in the late 1940s and covers several decades in the life of Fugui (You Ge), his wife Jiazhen (Li Gong), and their two children. It is an excellent family drama, provoking both laughter and tears, and distinguishing itself from similar movies because of its commitment to showing how China's changing society affects the family. It takes the huge subject of "the first twenty years of Communism in China," and brings it down to a human scale.

    Both leading actors nicely portray the way their characters change over the years. At first, Fugui is the stereotypical "callow young man" and Jiazhen the even more stereotypical "long- suffering wife," but the screenplay and actors eventually deepen the characterizations.

    The best sequence of the film covers the Chinese Civil War. Wisely, Yimou Zhang resists the temptation to make the movie too epic, and instead focuses on Fugui's personal experiences. The result is a very moving depiction of the human cost of war. In another striking touch, Fugui's hobby is singing with a shadow-puppet troupe. The puppets not only provide an interesting glimpse into traditional Chinese culture, they also take on a symbolic meaning.

    After watching "To Live," it's easy to see why the Chinese authorities banned it: there's a lot of tragedy in the film, and in most cases, Communism is to blame. Remarkably, though, Zhang also makes many of the Communist characters sympathetic. For instance, Fugui and Jiazhen's daughter marries an officer in the Red Guards, who is a little ridiculous in his devotion to Mao Zedong, but not a villain. This is in keeping with the overall spirit of "To Live"--humanistic and subtle, instead of bombastic or propagandistic. It's both an important examination of recent Chinese history, and a universal story about how individual human beings manage "to live" in times of hardship. A rare combination, and one well worth seeing.
  • Not.

    What I think Zhang Yimou's message here is that the will of the people "to live," as in the title, to survive and overcome obstacles is what defines the Chinese people. They ride the ox of communism as a boat rides a wave. They adapt.

    Consider that tall and thin Fugui (played with consummate skill by You Ge) says that a chick will become a chicken when it grows up, and then a sheep and then an ox and then the Communist Party. But as the film ends he tells his grandson only that the chick will become a chicken and then a sheep and then an ox. He doesn't mention communism. In this way we know that the people have tamed the ox.

    Zhang's film is an epic parable of life in China in the 20th century. It opens before the communist revolution with protagonist Fugui as a wayward son who is gambling the family fortune away. His wife, Jiazhen (Gong Li) pleads with him to stop, but he cannot. He is addicted to vice. Symbolically he represents the old regime. He loses everything, wife included and goes to live in the streets. After some time the revolutionary war begins and he and his friends find it convenient to switch sides and join the revolutionary army--he as an entertainer for the troops, a puppeteer. He and wife reunite and become loyal and even enthusiastic communists. He is lucky to have lost his fortune for now he is recognized as a hero of the revolution, while the man who won his family's house at dice is declared a counter-revolutionary and meets a bad end.

    As in every Zhang Yimou film I have seen, everything is beautifully and exquisitely done. His work is characterized by an artist's sense of color and form, by an engaging simplicity in the telling, and by a subtle sense of what is going on politically, and especially by a deep and abiding sense of humanity. Here the transformation of Chinese society from feudalism to communism to the capitalist/communism hybrid that exists today is shown through the eyes and experiences of the people; and what is emphasized is the endurance and the will of the people to survive, adapt and finally to flourish regardless of who might be in power.

    I would compare Zhang Yimou to the very greatest directors, say, to Stanley Kubrick, to Francis Ford Coppola, to Louis Malle, to Krzysztof Kieslowski in sheer artistic talent. Like Malle he is warm and honest about human beings and what they do without being maudlin or sentimental. Like Coppola he has an epic-maker's vision, and like the Coppola of the Godfather films, a strong sense of family. Like Kubrick he is creative and always aware of the needs of the audience, and like Kieslowski he is clever.

    This is in some respects Zhang Yimou's finest achievement because of the way he tells the story of communism in China. I am reminded of the way Louis Malle tells the truth about human sexuality without inciting the censors. Here Zhang Yimou tells the truth about the communist experience in China, subtly demonstrating its cruelties and stupidities without, amazing enough, incurring the wrath of the authorities. (Some of his films have been banned in China, but I understand they are readily available nonetheless.) Here the kids are smiling and happy as they work in the steel mill. The accident that kills Fugui's son is seen as just that, an accident and not the fault of the "Great Leap Forward." The members of the educated class, who are ridiculed, beaten and banished (and worse) during the "Cultural Revolution," accept their fate as their just deserts--the doctor who insists that it is better to wear the placard shaming him that is hung from around his neck than it is to take it off. The local official who has preached and practiced the communist line faithfully, who finds himself being labeled a capitalist, also accepts his fate as though in doing so he is furthering a cause larger than himself.

    In a way Zhang Yimou's international celebrity and reputation as one of the world's greatest film makers protects him. In another sense his depictions of the sins and excesses of the old regime before communism are so well done and appreciated by all, that such an expression also protects him.

    Nonetheless, I do not personally consider this Zhang Yimou's best film. I prefer the startling beauty of Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Red Sorghum (1987) as well as the charming Not One Less (1999) or the simple but powerful, The Story of Qiu Ju. However, this is an outstanding film.

    Notable in a supporting role is Wu Jiang as Wan Erxi the strong young man with the limp who marries the mute daughter. I have seen him in Shower (1999) in which his personal charisma and strength of character are shown more fully. He is the younger brother of Wan Jiang who starred in Zhang Yimou's first film, Red Sorghum. Of course Gong Li, one of the finest actresses of our time, who is often featured in Zhang Yimou's films, is outstanding as always.

    (Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
  • This movie, which was banned in mainland China for "Questionable" outlooks on the communist party, is one of the best movies I have seen thus far.

    It is easy to dismiss this movie as a "Sad period piece," but with another look, one sees that this is a story about triumph... of taking heart in the fact that one lives. The title, "To Live," is very apt, as we see the rises and falls of one small family living through the ups and downs of China during the pre-revolutionary era, the civil war, the Great Leap Forward, the Proletariat Cultural Revolution, and beyond.

    This movie is at turns dramatic, humorous, touching, chilling, heart-wrenching, and triumphant. A true roller coaster of emotions, played out in the subtle tones only Chinese film can truly capture.
  • I think most of us can watch Freddy Krueger rip people apart and barely flinch. Not that Nightmare on Elm Street is a bad film, it never inflicts pain on the viewer.

    But this film is so beautiful and so real, that it's unbearably heartbreaking at times. Every time I watch it, and I know a particular heartbreaking scene is coming up, I almost want to turn it off, but I'm just frozen in place, forced to experience the pain of the people on screen, that I've traveled three decades with. Zhang's understanding of the people of China, and the tragedy of history is full of empathy, respect, and adoration. In every scene, Gong Li embodies strength and beauty. Zhang's study of communism and of the Chinese government, isn't a villifying one sided argument, but one with complete understanding of the tragedy of this huge social experiment, that effected not only China, but the whole world.

    As a Korean American, I draw some appreciation at the parallel effects on Communism on Korea. Mao-Kim, Taiwan-SouthKorea. But this is a truly universal movie, and anyone would enjoy it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a beautiful story of one family as they cope with the changing times in revolutionary China. Through their eyes, we get a glimpse of what life must have been like for an average person in those days.

    The story begins with Fugui gambling away his family's home. Urbane and self-confident, he is quickly broken by the loss of his home and his father, who dies from shame. Having to leave his mother in the care of the new owner, he goes off with some puppets that have been loaned to him, making a living putting on shows around the countryside. He gets caught up in the revolution, helps the communist army, and eventually returns to find the wife and family he left behind.

    Nearly the entire story takes place in the city where he lives, a small side street in particular - no more than an alley by western standards. Fugui's wife, Jiazhen, lovingly played by the great actress, Gong Li, has been given a job by the local committee hauling hot water to local families. Fugui settles in and begins entertaining the neighborhood with his puppet shows. They have a mute daughter, Fengxia, and a precocious son, Youging.

    We see the family grow up and undergo changes, most of them tragic. Much of the action is tied to the political climate that evolves from the revolution through the period of the Red Guards (50's, 60's, early 70's). The son is killed by accident when a party official backs his jeep into a wall and crushes him. The father is told that his puppets are now considered counter-revolutionary, so he has to give up that pleasure. The daughter marries a kindly party official from a local factory, but dies in childbirth after the nursing students have expelled the doctors from the maternity ward for not being politically pure enough.

    Through it all the family perseveres, not with any great histrionics, but with acceptance and love. The parents are simple people who just want what's best for their children, but because of the circumstances set in action by the communists, they lose their daughter and son.

    This isn't an overly political film. The communist officials aren't depicted as evil, but neither are they particularly heroic. The local party leader is friendly and helpful to the family, as is the son-in-law. But apparently the depiction of the party in less than glowing terms during this period was offensive enough for the Chinese government to ban this film. Which is too bad because it's a tribute to the strength of the Chinese people and not a slam at communism per se.

    This is a beautiful film with a haunting musical theme running through it. I highly recommend it.
  • I saw this together with Red Lantern and viscerally knew which one I preferred right away. Having given it a few days to sit now, I see that Red Lantern has grown even more in my estimation while this has almost completely faded from view.

    Lantern was precisely contained within narrative walls, it abstracted life by placing us in the midst of turning cycles of life and wove cloths out of that turning in the form of rituals that marked passage; color, sound, weather, architecture. It was akin to a Buddhist mandala to me, a cosmic picture directing me to find my own place in the center of things, choose repose over madness.

    Zhang by contrast here wanders unconstrained, under the auspice of history, aiming for a full chronicle of sorts of Chinese life as a family moves through the decades. The stage backdrop changes frequently; Civil war, Great Leap, Cultural Revolution.

    We do still have the turning of cycles and it does create a (cosmic) picture; a life of comfort squandered by the man's ignorance who loses it all, to one of hardship and quiet abiding. But eventually it doesn't direct towards a center that will illuminate the turn as something more than the ramblings of history.

    And it's simply not a very enviable position to want to be the chronicler of history like Zhang is trying to here, it reminds me of how Kusturica stifled himself in similar endeavors. It means our reference point always has to be an externally agreed version of reality and we have to be chained to that sweep.

    You can see him try to root himself in something more essential - the husband becomes a puppeteer putting on shadow plays for the people, life as the canvas where these evanescent shadow plays are enacted, now losing a fortune, now gaining back your family, so that we could see it from the distance of transient flickers of drama. Civil war is introduced as someone hacking down the screen, revealing war as another play that demands its actors assume their place.

    But this is forgotten in lieu of stopping at various points of history so that it ends up being more the Oscar winning type than history parting to reveal myriad reflections like Andrei Rublev. Had it come out from the West, I'm sure it would have won a few and the wonderful Gong Li her first. The best I got out of it eventually was the sense of a man and woman trying to make their way together as the skies shift and the stage quakes by the ignorance of unseen puppet masters enacting their little plays. The Great Leap castigated as a wall collapsing on a little boy, because the man who crashed his car and the boy were both overworked and needed sleep.

    Zhang took care to color history within certain lines so that we veer close to the monumental failures of the era but never quite see the full brunt of the horror, famine or mass persecution, only bits of abuse in passing. It was still banned by Party hacks anxious to control the play.
  • Reasonably well off, Fugui loses all his money due to his gambling addiction. Eventually he loses his house in a game of dice with Long'er. Fugui's pregnant wife Jiazhen leaves him when it is clear he wants his vice over her. With poverty, Fugui comes to his senses and starts work with his own puppet troupe. On the birth of their son Jiazhen returns to the reformed Fugui, but civil war breaks out and Fugui leaves to fight. With things difficult already, the rise of the Maoist regime makes things ever more difficult and the Xu family suffer fortune and misfortune as Communism is formed.

    I watched this movie because it had won the top award at Cannes. I hadn't high hopes for some reason, but I figured it was worth a look. I am very glad I did because it is a wonderful little piece that can be enjoyed with little knowledge of the regime against which it is set. The story follows the family's misfortunes and how they are affected by the rise of Chairman Mao. Their plight is touching as they suffer wrongs but also show compassion on others – all the while trying to do the right thing by the system that is impacting on them. Even when tragedy occurs they never blame Communism but heap it on themselves instead.

    This unfolds over many years with the rise of Mao as the backdrop. The parrellel between the two things is clear without being forced or rammed down our throats – it's a wonderful bit of handling. Even better is the infusion of comic touches all the way through, the dialogue (even in subtitle form) is great and is witty and touching – I laughed out loud many times.

    Not having seen any other films by Zhang, I can only hope they are as good as this one. The cast, too, do a great job with the film. You Ge's Fugui is fabulous – he is a draw from the start on, and his ageing is so convincing that credit must go not only to the makeup but also to Ge for doing so well with potentially tragic figure. Likewise Gong is superb but ages less convincingly. The support cast are all good from the children through to the figures of Mao like Jiang and Niu. The only thing that saddened me about the two great leads is to think that Western cinema will never care to have them in any films – I guess that when it comes to Hong Kong cinema Hollywood only are interested if it has slow-motion and guns! (and they think they're cutting edge!)

    Overall I find it very hard to fault this film as it has so much going for it on so many levels. Just as a human story it is excellent, and the historical context only serves to make it better. Comic and touching right to it's perfectly pitched close, this should be searched out by anyone who wants a genuinely moving human tale with political comment sown into each frame without intrusion.
  • diuscorvus27 December 2006
    This is an amazing film that satisfies every criteria I have for cinema: excellent acting, great story, absorbing characters, consistent pacing, and beautiful images. Ge You gives a consummate performance, and it is through his eyes that we view the story; Gong Li, though not lavished with the attention Zhang Yimou usually gives her, provides the heart and soul of the film. It's her suffering and triumph that complements and completes Ge You's. Two things in particular elevate their performances: their complete avoidance of melodrama and their chemistry. They're flawlessly convincing as married couples who have gone through decades of turmoil.

    Many have claimed that this film is an overt attack on Mao's reign, but I disagree. At its core the movie is about living -- about how people endure and adapt through the worst of times. To this extent the movie is marvelously effective, but because of its focus on the characters, it's easy to overturn the objectivity and construe a message from the viewer and not the film. That said, the film does subtly criticize Communism, but in a matter-of-fact and objective manner. When tragedy strikes, the characters don't turn around and blame Mao Zedong; the film leaves it up to us to draw interpretations from the tragedies and joys we see. Perhaps this makes it an all the more potent assault, but the important thing is, Zhang Yimou didn't make this film to denounce Mao; Gong Li and Ge You don't have secret anti-Communism fires burning in their eyes. It's first and foremost a heartfelt, sympathetic, and beautiful portrayal of the endurance and spirit of common people in the face of seemingly unsurmountable odds.
  • tedg17 January 2006
    When you come to these, you expect beauty and the sweep of society and how it jostles the humans we're touching. You expect that as the advertised values.

    But I want something more than a good book well illustrated. This crop of Chinese filmmakers looks for the "soul" of the story in what some might call a gimmick, what they call the story-image.

    In some cases, this can make art that is lifealtering. "Zhou Yu's Train" with this actress was one of these for me. It was a delicate, complex weave among the layers of the story and the story-image reference of the train. And it explored that train from perspectives that were amazingly new.

    "Chinese Box," also with this same actress used a more human device. Kar-wei's films are the ultimate for me because he has transcended this notion of needing a visual metaphor/ allegory as an anchor.

    This director, used the notion of space in "Hero" as the story-image in that film, together with the notion that space itself could be the storyteller, and this is compounded by there being many candidate space-tellers.

    In this film, he uses the shadowpuppets as his device. I'm attracted to that because it is a sort of play within the play that is embossed on the play. Sure, the movie itself is about humans as puppets of society -- and got him in trouble with the puppetmasters.

    So I will recommend it on that basis: a folded film that happens to be lush and beautiful in a way that is enhanced by the folds.

    But if you want a more cinematic story-image see "Hero." If you want a richer fold with that image and this lovely actress, see "Zhou Yu's Train." And if you want these ideas in the extremest depth and effectiveness, see the pair of "In the Mood for Love" and "2046."

    Its a strange recommendation for a film to situate it among others that do elements better. But this is definitely worth your energy, investing your soul.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
  • ritu_ruch11 October 2015
    To live is one of the most heart wrenching,soul stirring film i have ever seen.Its got great acting,great cinematography,dialogues,music and direction which makes it a real gem of world cinema.Even the subtitles didn't look like a difficult task to read considering how brilliant,sad yet uplifting the film was.Its hard to believe that the main protagonist endured and suffered so much pain in the film yet had the heart and strength to carry on with their lives with a smile on their face.A brave film about a family who choose to live under every possible bad circumstance.I am proud i watched this Chinese film being an Indian.Go for it even if you don't know Chinese because this film deserves more recognition world wide.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    What struck me the most about this film is that is was a story of survival of an upper class (not working class) family that get swept up in the revolution. They have few skills because of their background and are initially saved from the communists because of a fluke.

    As the years roll on and calamities beset them, they blame each other for these events, however, their heartbreaking tragedies are no one's fault because they are engulfed in historical events over which no one is in control. They are so immersed in it they have no objectivity.

    I rate it as one of my favorite films (a 10) partly because there are no stereotypes. There are no real heavies. I thought it was wonderful and really humanizes the Chinese people to those of us who have no concept of who the Chinese are and what their life is like (and that includes me). It is one of the most gripping, emotional movies of all time.
  • This film is an excellent journey in the life of one unimportant chinese family through the middle of the 20th century. The rise of the communist regime is there for us to see in all it's glory and ineptitude as well. The films shows the fallibility of human government. This family goes through life surviving love intact through hardships and tragidies but they continue 'Living', 'To Live' and that is the beauty of the film.
  • I watched this version tonight and noticed that this almost perfect file is now cut (or hacked would be a better word) and ruined for me. I watched this film when it was new on an import laserdisc back in late '94 or early '95. The version I saw was just 2 minutes shy of 4 hours. The orginal laserdisc's were in CAV format and there were 8 of them in a beautiful red and black box with the shadow puppets on the front of it. Does anybody know where to find this or if the full version is on dvd? Just remember, if you havent seen the full version then you have NOT seen this film.
  • dromasca6 May 2003
    One must have lived through the Communist system to really appreciate the courage it takes to make such a film in a Communist country. History is still in making and there have been many come backs of the conservative forces in China. Creators may pay with their careers, liberty or even life for such a sincere open approach to the history of China in the last fifty years. The makers of this film deserve all our respect for this is probably the most openly critic film towards the system that I saw made in Communist China.

    But beyond all this is a very good film. The whole history of China in the second half of the 20th century is re-told through the eyes of a couple who live, love, and somehow survive all the dramatic times their country goes through. And although the price they pay is huge - they are losing dear people, they must make terrible compromises, give up their dreams - they keep their humanity and the final message is one of hope. It is not only private hope, but also the hope of a whole people to survive the tougher of the times of trouble, remaining true to its tradition and humanity.

    The film is very well acted and directed. The story line is a little melodramatic, but there are so many memorable scenes and lines, that make it for the aparent lack of complexity. This is certainly one of the best Chinese movies I have seen, and the Chinese cinema provided in the last ten years or so some of the true great creations of world cinema. 9/10 on my personal scale.
  • This is without a doubt Zhang Yimou's masterpiece. I saw To Live many years ago, but it is a film which still haunts my mind. What most impressed me about this film was its ability to focus on both the intimate story of a family, and the larger historic forces which surrounded this family. Also, the acting, as expected, from Gong Li, was great. This is a very emotional, sometimes difficult to watch, but ultimately rewarding film about the strength of family.
  • This is the best movie I have seen to date, hands down. Gong Li is a wonderful actress and I think this is her best film.

    This film tracks the life of a family through the years of China's communist take over. You are there for all their ups and downs and it makes you laugh out loud and cry (literally) as you are caught up in the story as if you are actually there.
  • What I liked more about this movie are the twists and turns of fate, of life. The story spreads on different decades, and is very compelling to watch the characters, how they change, not just physically, by getting older, but internally, their mindset, their attitudes, their expectations. And society also changes, decade by decade...
  • ruiw16 November 2018
    As a movie based on Hua Yu's novel, HuoZhe did a really good job in presenting all the bloody thruth of living and leaves the viewers with the question "What is living? Why we live?" Destiny is always unpredictable and uncontrollable, "How we live" is the only thing we can do over the destiny. Good movie, highly recommended. Ps, I don't know why it says it's banned in China. Actually the movie is so popular in China where most of people heard/watched it.
  • "This piece of art is an epic family drama." If i read reviews like this, i usually think of over-the-top artsy movies with weird acting, unrealistic dialogs and long shots at clocks or stones that no person in his right mind, who is not a complete movie buff would voluntarily sit through. To all you "normal" people, who are afraid of just this: This is not one of those movies. It's no popcorn cinema, but it's still highly entertaining in its own way. The story is gripping, the acting is nothing short of marvelous (Ge You and Gong Li deserve every prize there is for their performances) and the dialogs are simply ...real. It makes you laugh out loud and it makes you cry (there'll be more crying than laughing going on, though) To me, it's a perfect movie, that might just change your perspective on life.

    However, you will be able to enjoy this masterpiece more thoroughly, if you get yourself acquainted with Chinese history from the 1930s to the 1970s, and while you're at it try to dive into Chinese culture itself real quick as well ^_^ Trust me, you will be able to enjoy this movie much more, if you know more than "well, the commies took over in '49 and then there was this cultural revolution, i guess". If you don't have all that background information, you'll probably still think of it as a great movie, but you're going to miss some of the subtle social commentary and will not recognize the importance of some of the plot devices. So you might want to check out wikipedia or a history book beforehand; or maybe even the novel itself, if you can get your hands on it. The novel is very good, too. But it does lack the optimistic fundamental note and the humor of the movie.
  • Looks just like communism in a east european country. i remember the hunger and the cold from the 80s. most of the men started drinking as if there was no way out. but it came in 89 and though the 90s were also hard times after that things really changed. we are all on a stage... beatiful movie, great acting.
  • The movie "Alive" gave us an opportunity to understand history, the steelmaking, the Great Leap Forward, the great criticism, the Cultural Revolution, history is a dead thing, it can't speak, but you can see it as long as you open your eyes, Naturally, you can get more thinking from it. Often, only history is the most powerful because it is real, even if you close your eyes, you cannot escape this existence. In the words of our party, the times are advancing, the economy is leaping, the people 's living standards are skyrocketing, and the national power is skyrocketing, but we can no longer see such movies because we have forgotten in the prosperous material life. Own dignity. Wang Xiaobo said, "For thousands of years of Chinese history, few people have had their own personal dignity ... The state of Chinese etiquette, all dignity is defined in terms of the whole and the relationship between people, one is not in the unit, not at home, It does not represent the country, it does not represent the nation, and when it exists alone, it is not a person but a piece of meat. " . Fugui in "Living" is not such a meat, he gave up all his dignity, lowered three and four, murmured again and again and again and again and again, Fugui couldn't tell what his behavior was doing, What is revolution, what is capitalism, what is dignity, he does not know, this person, just to survive. In China, everyone is calling for a happy life, but most people are just struggling to survive, fighting fiercely with the cruel reality, doing too much without dignity, and gradually becoming numb, So that later he could not remember his original intention but just wanted to live a stable life. "I follow you, just want to live a stable life." Jia Zhen has been repeating this sentence in the movie. There is a family and some people are better than anything. The hardships of fate have not destroyed this family. Duckweed drifting in the wind and rain, crumbling, never falling down, facing the cruel reality, Fu Gui and Jia Zhenwei silently endure these unspeakable pains, tearing off the self-esteem in front of their faces, and then continue to live, this is the most Chinese The most ridiculous and simple moral character. It has always been thought that we can only see ourselves and the people around us, even further away, we can't see clearly. Even if we are looking for dignity, how can we treat others as people? It's all a body, just a thing.

    Compared with novels and movies, what is more distressing is that the text on the screen is only the history of sixty years ago, and it never returns. In reality, the time we live in is still every moment. In such a scene, it is similar to the tragedy of the rich and the abandonment of dignity, only to survive, the economy is leaping, the spirit is receding, and the people are more indifferent. Fart, the bastard is still that bastard. All dignity is magnified endlessly in the country and the nation. On the other hand, the self-esteem of the people is gradually being wiped out. The only increase is the powerless pity and hopeless anger. "Alive" records the truth of history, and the Chinese on the screen make each of us present into heavy thinking. Fu Gui's ups and downs are vivid in his life. Whether it is a novel or a movie, he is restating a heavy topic. , That is: there is no happiness or misfortune in life, life is just alive, living quietly, just living like an object. After watching the movie, I couldn't help but ask myself: In the past sixty years, do we continue to live like this, do we continue to live like this, or die.
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