It’s a film that the Chinese Communist Party sees as an existential threat and is recognized internationally as one of the best Chinese films ever, To Live (活着 Huózhe) exposes life under the rule of Chairman Mao and the various Party policies that have caused hardship to the average citizen. The film’s awards includes the Grand Prix from the Cannes Film Festival (1994) and Best Film Not in the English Language from the BAFTA Awards (1995), it is a piece of art that viewers are surely to admire.
Adapted from the book of the same name, the cast/team involved consists of some of most recognized faces in China, including the beloved Gong Li (巩俐 Gǒng Lì) and director Zhang Yimou (张艺谋 Zhāng Yìmóu) and successfully illustrates this amazing story. The award-winning acting brings to life a number of episodes, from a husband with a gambling problem to children performing hard labor, for the audience to experience. The film uncovers historic and tragic events from the 40s to the 70s such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, topics that even today, Beijing officials consider too sensitive to freely discuss.
Probably one the most difficult times in China’s history, the early to mid-20th century was a hard and tumultuous era of revolution, cultural change, and passionate fervor. This film focuses particularly on the issue of social changes that took place, a based-on-true-events situation when a family of wealth, Fugui and Jiazhen, is forced to give everything up due to the communist ideals of class struggle, or that the rich shall give everything to their fellow comrades to balance the classes. The title To Live is a representation of what living in China was like under the Maoist regime–survival.
There is little more to say of this film except that it is like forbidden fruit. It’s a film the Chinese government would rather you not watch, one that the director received punishment for making (a two year ban on directing), but released anyways because he wanted not only the Chinese to know about life in China. He wanted the whole world to see what it was like. It is also one of the most original movies to come out of China, unlike many of the copycats that are released these last few years. Watch this movie and learn what it was like to live.