Tuesday, October 25, 2005

To Live (Huozhe)

This is a chinese movie by Yimou Zhang and stars You Ge and Li Gong.

The movie starts in early 1940s in China and spans a period of 20 years or so. It follows the life of Xu Fugui and his wife Xu Jiazhen. Fugui is a gambler and is steadily spending his family fortune by gambling it away. He ignores his pregnant wife and his daughter. Unable to take this, his wife leaves him. He loses his family's house and his father dies, unable to bear the insult. His wife returns to him and he starts rebuilding his life from scratch. The movie follows the life of their family though the period of some twenty years or so. The story is told in the backdrop of the great upheavals in China at that time : The communist revolution, Mao's Great Leap Forward etc. The film is also a commentary on the pressure on people to conform. Everyone is afraid to seem 'not revolutionary enough' or 'not communist enough' or 'too capitalist'.

The film manages to show all this without being terribly obvious about it. The focus is always on the Xu family and these epic events that happen around them are just the canvas on which the picture is drawn. So, we get a sense of how 'big' things affect 'little' people.

I was really impressed with the way the characters were portrayed. Li Gong is simply brilliant as Xu Jiazhen. She's just too beautiful and has an expressive face. You Ge has done a really nice role as Xu Fugui.

The script is poignant without being maudlin. It's not depressing throughout, even though depressing things happen. There are happy times and sad times, just like in any family. I really liked the lack of heavy handedness in the script. The feelings are expressed subtly and without overt melodrama. In that, the movie reminded me of Twilight Samurai. After a while, you really start identifying with all the characters.

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The movie has a real 'asian' feel to it.

I really wish that Indian moviemakers would make movies like this, instead of pumping out maudlin "family" melodramas like Baghban.