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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

TO LIVE (1994)

Zhang Yimou has such a natural, flowing technique, that all his films are a pleasure to watch. Yet I don’t think his best work comes from the serious nationalistic dramas that win the awards, but in pics that dabble in genre tropes, like JU DOU or HERO. They avoid the corporate, group-think plotting that can bog down his productions, turning him into a sort of Asian David Lean. Well, Lean at less than his best, and TO LIVE certainly has a sort of ZHIVAGO-y tone to it, though with better music! A rich wastrel played by Ge You (in a staggeringly fine perf) gambles away the family fortune, but manages to survive Mao’s Revolutionary March, Great Leap Forward & even the Cultural Revolution. How these events play out on his wife (the wonderful Gong Li), his two kids & his shadow puppets carry us thru the storyline. It’s certainly well handled, but you keep expecting someone to break out with a chorus of "Old Man River."

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