To Live / 活著

Mao does not come out looking great in this one


Release date: May 18, 1994
Director: Zhang Yimou
Language: Mandarin

Who should watch this movie: Students in a “20th Century Chinese History” class. 

When should you watch this movie: When you are prepared/emotionally fortified against devastation. 

The sell: This! Movie! Is! Sad! If you’re halfway through and thinking, “wow, things couldn’t possibly get any worse,” I promise you they can and they do. This is not in any way a strike against this movie. It’s a gorgeous film that humanizes historical events in an unforgettable way. To Live follows a couple and their two children through two decades of history, from the civil war, through the Great Leap Forward, to the Cultural Revolution. With few moments of brevity, the family faces hardship after hardship and are forced to reckon with the worst consequences of Mao’s regime. It is not without reason that this movie was banned from theatrical release in China when it came out in 1994. It is with mixed feelings that I recommend this movie knowing how sad it is, but Gong Li’s performance is something so special you really do have to see it.

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