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Fugui and Jiazhen endure tumultuous events in China as their personal fortunes move from wealthy landownership to peasantry. Addicted to gambling, Fugui loses everything. In the years that follow he is pressed into both the nationalist and communist armies, while Jiazhen is forced into menial work. They raise a family and survive, managing "to live" from the 40's to the 70's in this epic, but personal, story of life through an amazing period. Written by
Moving, comic and political despite being a little bleak at times it is almost without flaw
Reasonably well off, Fugui loses all his money due to his gambling addiction. Eventually he loses his house in a game of dice with Long'er. Fugui's pregnant wife Jiazhen leaves him when it is clear he wants his vice over her. With poverty, Fugui comes to his senses and starts work with his own puppet troupe. On the birth of their son Jiazhen returns to the reformed Fugui, but civil war breaks out and Fugui leaves to fight. With things difficult already, the rise of the Maoist regime makes things ever more difficult and the Xu family suffer fortune and misfortune as Communism is formed.
I watched this movie because it had won the top award at Cannes. I hadn't high hopes for some reason, but I figured it was worth a look. I am very glad I did because it is a wonderful little piece that can be enjoyed with little knowledge of the regime against which it is set. The story follows the family's misfortunes and how they are affected by the rise of Chairman Mao. Their plight is touching as they suffer wrongs but also show compassion on others all the while trying to do the right thing by the system that is impacting on them. Even when tragedy occurs they never blame Communism but heap it on themselves instead.
This unfolds over many years with the rise of Mao as the backdrop. The parrellel between the two things is clear without being forced or rammed down our throats it's a wonderful bit of handling. Even better is the infusion of comic touches all the way through, the dialogue (even in subtitle form) is great and is witty and touching I laughed out loud many times.
Not having seen any other films by Zhang, I can only hope they are as good as this one. The cast, too, do a great job with the film. You Ge's Fugui is fabulous he is a draw from the start on, and his ageing is so convincing that credit must go not only to the makeup but also to Ge for doing so well with potentially tragic figure. Likewise Gong is superb but ages less convincingly. The support cast are all good from the children through to the figures of Mao like Jiang and Niu. The only thing that saddened me about the two great leads is to think that Western cinema will never care to have them in any films I guess that when it comes to Hong Kong cinema Hollywood only are interested if it has slow-motion and guns! (and they think they're cutting edge!)
Overall I find it very hard to fault this film as it has so much going for it on so many levels. Just as a human story it is excellent, and the historical context only serves to make it better. Comic and touching right to it's perfectly pitched close, this should be searched out by anyone who wants a genuinely moving human tale with political comment sown into each frame without intrusion.
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