Spanning over three decades, Yimou Zhang's To Live is an epic story of one Chinese family living through years of significant political change in China, following them as they go from landowners to peasants, as they suffer personal tragedy, while capturing how they manage to never lose hope or optimism in what the future may hold. Beginning in the 1940s, To Live introduces us to Fugui, a compulsive gambler, who loses his families' home to a gambling debt. With the perspective that he choose gambling over his family, Fugui's wife Jiazhen leaves him over his latest snafu, taking their young daughter and unborn son with her. After losing everything, Fugui finds himself pressed into joining both the nationalist and eventually the communist armies in the following years, and after being surrounded by death and carnage he begins to see the true error of his past ways. Reconnecting with Jiazhen, who is now conducting menial work for the recently Communized town, To Live documents their struggles in raising a family and surviving in such turbulent times. Yimou Zhang's latest film is a gripping family drama that could best be described as an ode to the Chinese people who lived through the time period. The film doesn't hold back any punches in revealing the us vs. them mentality of political ideology, revealing the destruction and death such large political changes had on the masses in China, many of which were peasants simply trying to persevere through the large seas of change. In this sense, To Live shows a ton of admiration for these brave and strong individuals who survived under a totalitarian regime, exhibiting how many individuals had their fates and fortunes determined by forces much beyond their control. Even with all the harsh circumstances these characters' face, To Life manages to keep an aura of optimism, placing value on living, regardless of the less than ideal circumstances which these characters face. Make no mistake, this film is full of sadness and tragedy, but the way Yimou Zhang's film exhibits the importance of perseverance and optimism is what truly stands out. A quietly seething commentary on Communism, Yimou Zhang's To Live at its core is a film celebrating the Chinese people, using this story of one families perseverance to praise the Chinese masses as a whole, capturing how often the seas of change are much bigger than any one individual while capturing how it is up to us to make the best of any situation.
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