147 of 158 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2002
I won't go into the details of this movie, one because it really should be enjoyed without any preface, and two because it has been described elsewhere. I rented the movie purely to see Gong Li, who is one of the most beautiful actresses out there. I was absolutely blown away by this film. The story, the acting, the flow; everything about it was masterful. I am a big fan of Zhang Yimou, but this film far outshines any other work he's done before or after. Gong's acting is superb, matched entirely by You Ge. The scene with the "tea" revenge caught me so offhand, in both the touching portral of Chinese family life mixed with the wonderful quirky humor, that I laughed out loud and nearly choked on some ice tea I was drinking at the time. 10 minutes later I was crying my eyes out. This movie left me shaking at the end, and I kept reliving scenes over and over days after I returned the rental. "To Live" is one of the best all-time films ever made, period.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2000
To live, an inalienable right of human beings that sounds so basic, one could easily take it for granted. However, during most of the time in this century in China, to live could be nothing less than a luxury.
The movie presents the audience a vivid picture of a former gambling addict, who lost every penny his family ever owned and, to his abyss, his family. One would not expect this mishap could save his life several decades later, when those financially privileged were executed as the people's enemies by the new government under the leadership of Chairman Mao.
He fought for the Nationalist government, became POW shortly after. He then served in the communist PLA, entertaining the staff as a master of shadow play.
The civil war ended, the country was split, while his wife and two children came back to him.
He thought it was time for peace, after so many years of warfare ranging from the revolution against the emperor to the Sino-Japanese War to the civil war. Like most Chinese, he felt that he could finally stand up.
To his disappointment, since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, he witnessed the Great Leap Forward, the class struggle, the Culture Revolution. Years of turmoil chattered all his dreams. His only goal became downgraded to living a simple life. He spared no effort to protect his family, but still lost his only son.
It took a quarter century after the civil war before he saw the long overdue peace. When the notorious Culture Revolution was over, there also disappeared the people's euphoria about the communism, as symbolized by the striking contrast in the different answers to the same question about the future of their family. "Chicken, goose, goat, cow and the communism" was replaced by just "chicken, goose, goat and cow". For countless Chinese, their bitterly learned lessons gradually alienated them from their government that they used to love and trust.
To Live is an excellent movie! It takes courage to show people the real picture of the past. For China, To Live could be a vaccine against more merciless class struggle and blind loyalty towards a self-claimed savor.
76 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2000
Unfortunately foreign movies do not get the credit and publicity they deserve. If only people would be more open minded about foreign movies, they would discover the movie "To Live". To Live is a movie about life itself. It reflects what the common people in China experienced during the Cultural Revolution. We follow the life of an ordinary family that goes through many hardships, wondering if they would live or die. Through the hard times, it makes them realize how important life, family, and love really is. Ultimately in a country where there is so much chaos and tragedy, the only thing the people want, is TO LIVE. The actors/actresses in this movie are splendid, Gong Li is absolutely beautiful. I believe that her role in To Live is the most powerful and finest compared to all of her other movies. Somehow I can not explain it but Chinese movies have a way of portraying a person's character, their emotions in such a way that hits you right on the spot. That is something that American movies have not achieved yet. This movie will make you cry, laugh, and be thankful that you are alive. We win, we lose, life is not easy. I recommend this movie for anyone and everyone. It will make you think about your own life and be more thankful for what you have and don't have. It is just unfortunate that most people would never consider watching a Chinese movie, well they are missing out on the greatest movie.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2001
This is absolutely my all-time favorite movie! "To Live" takes a different approach to narrate the confusing periods in Chinese history in the 20th century, to tell a store of life, and a history of a nation. Don't get me wrong! It's not a heavy movie like other portrayal movies of Chinese History such as "Farewell My Concubine", "Blue Kite" or "the Last Emperor" (they're good movies as well, but no comparison to "To Live"); quite the contrary, "To Live" is humorous, delightful, positive, and encouraging. It's not only a good comedy that makes you laugh, but also makes you laugh with tears in your eyes, sad and sore in your heart.
The main story line is how am ordinary family of Fu Gui (Ge You) and Jia Zhen (Gong Li) went through their lives in various movements, wars and revolutions in China. A careless gambler, Fu Gui, lost everything he had - money, property and family - only left with a set of puppets. It's the same set of puppets that went through all the ups and downs with Fu Gui, his family and friends. Through all the tragic and comic moments and events, through all the bitter-sweetness and irony, the characters were in such a positive spirit that they could make jokes of anything in life, but only through the body languages and their eyes, you could see the heartache.
There is an old Chinese proverb that states, "the old man lost his horse, but it turned out to be his good luck". The entire movie is based on this theory: whether you gain or lose, promote or demote, you would never know if it were good for you at the end. Life is a series of comedic dramas; if you don't face it with a positive attitude and joke back, even during the hardest struggle, you would not be able to survive.
This movie is a masterpiece if you want to find out the meaning of Life, and how meaningful it is "to live"!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2001
Perhaps the best film that has ever been made about life during and after a revolution shown through the eyes of one family. The film opens with a scene from the luxurious and decadant Imperial China of the past. Here a feckless aristocrat Fugui ( Ge You) squanders away his family fortune in a gambling den. With the best lines coming from his outraged elderly father. As he shrieks "Turtle spawn !" at his son. As he honors the debts incured by signing over the lease.
The uniqueness of the film is that life will become so uncertain and traumatic because of unforseen revolutionary political events. So what at first is considered a misfortune eventually becomes a blessing. When Fugui eventually goes cup in hand to ask for money from his former gambling partner. He is denied money but given puppets to earn his living by instead. Having a natural flair for comedy he is a success.
Thus allowing the story to unfold in a unmelodramatic and realistic manner. The great Gongi Li who plays his wife Jaizhen is superb at expressing the unspoken emotion of the crisis in which they find themselves. They will witness war at first hand the death of loved ones and even betrayal. As each adversity greets them the resolute response to heartaches is not defeat but a refusal to relinqish the desire to live on.
This film is fast paced without being superficial and humourous without being disrespectful. You will laugh and cry but mainly you will find it unforgettable. I for one will never forget the look on the parents face when they realize that all the doctors have been arrested as "capitalist reactionaires" So there are only inexperienced students left to deliver their mute daughter's baby. Its classic in the world of cinema and deserves hundreds of accolades. Because its a gut wrenching scene that has never been suppassed in realism. Gongi Li amd Ge You are incredible no wonder the film was banned in china. "To Live" is a crushing indictment of the price ordinary Chinese people paid to satisfy Chairman Mao Zedong's communist ideology. This film is a must see
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2004
I watch "To Live" at least once a year, and definitely near my birthday, because it is about the sublime beauty of simple persistence in harshest times. It is in the top five of my favorite movies. Everyone else has said what's important, but I will add that the theme music is haunting and exquisite. Once I read that the most tenacious life forms, like bristle cone shrubs, are ones that can die back, allowing the core to live on in most harsh conditions. The emotional theme of the film is about reconciling to loss, on both large and small scales, and how letting go of the past is like dying back. What a film. What I would give to meet Zhang Yimou, whose other films, including Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, and Red Sorghum, are marked by the same careful attention to the significance of the intimate encased in epic themes. One last thing, share this film with your friends. Many of mine appreciated it.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2000
"To Live" was the first Asian film I saw and awed me tremendously. The film is truly a piece of cinematic art. Its acting is supurb - of all the Zhang Yimou films I have seen (four or five) this is the best acted. Gong Li and You Ge give fabulous performances, with excellent body language and characterization.
The story, like Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine" (also a portrayl of Chinese history, with more emphasis on the people than the history), follows people through the Communist Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, all highly influential events in Modern Chinese history. (If you are unfamiliar with these events, the first is when the Communists took over China; the GLF is when the country tried to increase production through very extreme measures and failed horribly; the Cultural Revolution was an entire social reorganization aimed to stir up the passions of the people and to weed out Capitalists.)
Anyhoo, the people are Jiazhen (Gong Li) and Fugui (You Ge), husband and wife. In the beginning, Fugui bets away his entire family fortune, which eventually saves them from being labelled Capitalists by the Communists. More events transpire - including two tragic deaths that could have destroyed Jiazhen and Fugui's family for good - until finally thirty years of revolution and tragedy bring them to the 1970's.
In addition to the beauty of the film, the soundtrack by Zhao Jiping is incredible, and almost makes me cry from its sheer power.
This film is truly a winner!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2002
To live is one of the best and final examples of new Chinese cinema.
Film tells the story of people during ht ehard times of great leap forward and cultural revolution.
Story starts with the story of a a rich but a careless man who looses everything on gambling. After that we start to witness the major events in 20th century China's history. He is recruited by kuomitang and founds him self in the battle ground, soon captured and starts entertaining communist troops with his puppets. Later united with his family and becomes hopeful for the future and fully believes communist ideology. With the dissapointment and famine of great leap forward and the horrors of cultural revolution, we all witness the Chinese people's dreams shatter one by one which were all promised by chairman Mao.
Unlike farewell my concubine and blue kite, these are the stories of people whose lives are shattered not directly by the events but rather indirectly. ( extremely well portrayed with the birth scenes in the hospital with all doctors jailed and only students and nurses remain) Gong Li gives another solid performance since she is no stranger to such characters, as the sacrificing but strong wife who carries his husband on the bad times. You Ge and the rest of the actors are excellent, and they all give simple, minimal but powerful as well as very realistic performances. Directors and the staff also manages to come up with and excellent portrayal of China and like other excellent Chinese films of 90's ,realistic shots and sequences are all remarkable.The battlefield shots of civil war, the execution of a landlord and the fear on the face of the puppet master (it is great to be poor, telling his wife) and the hospital scenes are all meister work.
Actually film's name tell us all about it very economically. To live.Simple and common people's struggle to live and look after their families against all odds. and film gives that remarkably well.
If you enjoyed the blue kite and/or farewell my concubine, you will definitely like this film.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2001
If you want specifics, please scroll through some other reviews. I'll just say this. This is one of the most touching, beautifully heartbreaking movies I have ever seen. Hollywood probably doesn't have a chance in Hell of equaling this. A movie well worth checking out. Too bad most people don't know what good films come from China....
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2003
Given the subject, it would be easy for a director to get carried away and offer some monumental slant regarding the political repercussions of an obstinately socialist regime on a common man's life in China. No, not with Yamou Zhang. This is a simple, stirring tale that takes us through 3 generations of ordinary people in extraordinary times.
Whether it is some knowledge of the cultural revolution you crave, or a basic poignant movie, just watch it instead of reading these reviews. In my book, this ranks right next to Yume or Farewell My Concubine as epics from the orient. Little can be *said* about this movie that would not be much better *felt* firsthand.
6 out of 5 stars.