To Live

Shown: 16 November 1996
Introduced by Sally Sampson

China 1994 (subtitles)
125 minutes
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Leading players - Ge You, Gong Li & Niu Ben


China, 1947. Fugui (Ge You), a wealthy merchant's son determines to squander his father's fortune at the local casino tables. As well as losing his inheritance and palatial home, his young wife, Jaizhen (Gong Li), leaves him taking their infant son with her.

With nothing more to lose, Fugui, now scraping a meagre living in a shadow puppet theatre, forswears gambling and, strictly on his wife's terms, is reunited with his family. Zhang Yimou's film chronicles the next 30 years as the family, buffeted from civil war between Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalists and Mao Zedong's communists to the great leap forward and the cultural revolution, merely want to live. .

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Zhang Yimou brings China's recent history vividly to life by showing the effect that political events of seismic proportion, too vast to pour endlessly across the screen, have on the domestic minutiae of one family. Earning a living and raising children become heroic struggles.

However, despite everything the human will to go on, to make a better life, remains intact. As Zhang Yimou wrote in the 1994 Cannes Film Festival programme, "Millions of Chinese families have undergone a turbulent half-century of exceptional hardship. We can attribute their survival to their resilience and their will to live and to a fundamentally optimistic attitude that informs every aspect of the way they live their lives. To be forever hopeful in the face of difficulties and hardships , is what living is all about."