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The third entry of Gu's rural trilogy of contemporary Chinese commoners afflicted with unfair destiny
A hallowed cinematographer behind many of the most iconic Chinese contemporary films, Yimou Zhang's RED SORGHUM (1987), JU DOU (1990), Kaige Chen's FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (1993), Wen Jiang's IN THE HEAT OF THE SUN (1994) and DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP (2000), just to name a few, Gu's third directorial endeavour, LOVE FOR LIFE, which aligns with his two previous films, PEACOCK (2005) and AND THE SPRING COMES (2007), together they loosely construct a "rural" trilogy examining the personal hardship and societal pressure of the ordinary lives after the Culture Revolution.
LOVE FOR LIFE is inspired by the real-life happenings about AIDS villages in the hinterland, where misconducts of blood transfusion can cause an entire village HIV-infected, since selling blood is a common means for those strapped for cash in these outlying and indigent areas. In its pre-title opening, a village schoolboy is succumbed to a poisoned apple and becomes the sporadic voice- over from six feet under, often sounds the death knell for one particular victim, which glazes the ominous story with a surrealistic touch.
The boy himself is a fall guy for his father Qiquan (Pu), who has brought the deadly "heat disease" epidemic upon the village people through his blood-selling business. Qiquan is remorseless for his wrongdoings and infuriated by his son's murder, he refuses to apologise, out of guilt and conscience, Pu's father (Tao) volunteers to take in all the infected to the abandoned school where he administers, including his younger son Deyi (Kwok). A group-living life seems apt for them (deserted by the society and their families), among the worst things can happen are petty larceny and siphoning off the doled-out rice from the government, of course, until, the looming "elephant in the room" overtakes gallows humour.
Deyi is attracted by Qinqin (Zhang), a comely young wife of his relative, who caught the disease just because she is pining for a shampoo which is popular among townsfolk. The film schematically veers from the wretched victim bunch to a torrid "Love in the times of AIDS" affair between these two, who eventually resolve to divorce from their respective spouses (both treat them like plague), and remarry, it is a race against their numbered days, but Gu invites viewers to revel in their carpe diem rollickings with an us-against-the-whole-world vengeance, which ends in the hot vs. cold, conscious vs. unconscious climax, where love overcomes morality.
It is a great comfort that Gu is gallant enough to tackle with a topical and thorny issue under a contemporary background (1990s to be exact). Deep-rooted sexism, inherent weakness, outrageous superstition (a wedding ceremony for dead children), immoral avarice, along with the prejudice against HIV, all pointedly reflected from Gu's prism of storyboards. Being a cinematographer-turned-director, Gu's habitual astuteness of the awe-inspiring rural landscape can be anything but disappointing, and maverick musician Zuoxiaozuzhou's attendant score is distinctly pathos-arousing.
Celebrated Hong Kong singer-cum-actor Aaron Kwok, throws down the gauntlet to play a rustic simpleton, bravely sports a local accent (albeit that Chinese audience are all aware that in real life, his Mandarin is far from perfect, people speak Cantonese in HK by the way), sacrifices his good- looks and discards his metropolitan glamour, admirably evokes both levity and poignancy with accurate propriety. Ziyi Zhang, in a more restrained fashion, attenuates her impetuous pride while accentuates her recalcitrant dignity, one of her career's best so far. Cunxin Pu, who has the same age as his on screen father Zeru Tao (both born in 1953), dazzles with spontaneous vulgarity and an appearance overhaul in his fitful presence, which is a far cry from his trademark positive screen image Chinese audience feels more familiar with. Wenli Jiang, Gu's wife and long-time muse, a naturalistic scene-stealer, enforces the most rip-roaring moment with her pig-riding gimmick.
LOVE FOR LIFE, the story itself has a rich vein of potentiality to mine, instead of skewering the most obvious one, the cause behind these man-made tragedies, Gu's film opts for a safer and artistically compromised ground to compose an ode to love, both physically and spiritually, it is done with significant potency, but a feeling of being short-changed cannot be expelled, regardless of how many times an impassioned Qinqin reads the words on their hard-earned marriage certificate in the ending.
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