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A Time to Live, a Time to Die (1985)
"Tong nien wang shi" (original title)

 |  Biography, Drama  |  1988 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 1,253 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 10 critic

The semi-autobiographical film on director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's childhood and adolescence, when he was growing up in Taiwan, living through the deaths of his father, mother and grandmother.

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Title: A Time to Live, a Time to Die (1985)

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Credited cast:
Chia-bao Chang
Neng Chang
Chih-chen Chen
Han-wen Chen
Shu-Fang Chen
Bao-te Chiang
Tung-hung Chou
Ai Hsiao
Shu-fen Hsin ...
Hsiao's love interest
Hsiang-ping Hu
Tung-lai Kao
Chung-Wen Lin
Kuo-bao Liu
Cheng-ye Lo
Shun-lin Lo


This depiction of childhood and adolescence draws heavily from the filmmaker's own boyhood. Like many of their compatriots, Hou's family moved from the mainland to Taiwan in 1948 and was unable ever to return. The film focuses on the widening generation gap in a family cut off from its cultural heritage. Written by International Film Circuit <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Biography | Drama


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Release Date:

1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Time to Live and a Time to Die  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente) |

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


This film is inspired by screenwriter-turned-director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's coming-of-age story. It is the second installment of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Coming-of-Age Trilogy" that features three prominent Taiwanese screenwriters' coming-of-age stories - the other two are _My Summer at Grandpa's (1984)_ (inspired by the childhood memories of Chu Tien-Wen) and _Dust in the Wind (1986)_ (inspired by the coming-of-age story of Wu Nien-Jen). See more »


Featured in Naamsaang-neuiseung (1998) See more »

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User Reviews

A great introduction to the world's greatest director
26 September 2001 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I recommend A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE as a great introduction to the films of Hou Hsiao Hsien, who I consider the greatest director working today. Like most of his films, this one is about the telling of history, the effort to recreate the memories of the past, in this case his childhood memories growing up in rural Taiwan. His family has escaped Communist China but live as if they will make their return someday. That someday never comes, the family grows old, and members die one by one. These tragedies (filmed with heartbreaking solemnity) serve as punctuation marks for the film's narrative, which isn't so much concerned with plot details as it is with capturing the sense of what it was like to live at that time, as the kids develop their own sense of belonging, in a country they have adpoted just as it has adopted them. His method of editing and storytelling is something close to revolutionary, and he would refine it in his later films. His ability to set scene after impeccable scene and let the ideas ferment over their totality is unparalleled. This is perhaps his most accessible film, full of heart and pathos. It may seem slowgoing by Hollywood standards, but if you have the willingness to let it wash over you, you will be transported, both mentally and emotionally.

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