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To Live

Poster for the movie "To Live"

To Live (1994)

125 min - Drama, Romance, War - 30 June 1994
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In China, Fugui and Jiazhen navigate tumultuous events as their status transitions from affluent landowners to common peasants.

Director:  Zhang Yimou


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In China, Fugui and Jiazhen navigate tumultuous events as their status transitions from affluent landowners to common peasants.

Collections: Zhang Yimou

Genres: Drama, Romance, War


Official Website: 
Country:   China Hong Kong
Language:  普通话
Release Date:  30 June 1994

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Runtime:  2 h 05 min

In China, Fugui and Jiazhen face turbulent occurrences as their personal fortunes shift from opulent landownership to peasants.

To Live by Zhang Yimou Movie Trailer

The 1994 Chinese film “To Live,” also known as “Lifetimes” in some English translations, was directed by Zhang Yimou and features actors Ge You and Gong Li. Produced by the Shanghai Film Studio and ERA International, the film is an adaptation of Yu Hua’s novel of the same name. Zhang Yimou, following his successful ventures with movies like “Ju Dou” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” had high anticipations for this movie. It was groundbreaking as the first Chinese film to have pre-sold overseas distribution rights.

However, the film faced a ban in mainland China by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television due to its portrayal that was critical of several Communist government activities. The film made its debut at the 1994 New York Film Festival and saw a limited release in the U.S. on November 18, 1994.

Regarding its development, Zhang Yimou initially wanted to adapt another novel by Yu Hua titled “Mistake at River’s Edge.” However, after reading “To Live,” he felt a compelling pull towards it. Eventually, they decided to adapt “To Live.”

In the story, Xu Fugui, portrayed by Ge You, is a compulsive gambler during the 1940s. After losing his entire family fortune and causing distress to his wife Jiazhen, played by Gong Li, she leaves him with their daughter and unborn son. However, circumstances bring them back together, and Fugui finds himself drafted into the military during the Chinese Civil War. After serving both sides of the war and going through several hardships, he returns home to find his daughter impaired due to an illness.

The story delves deep into the societal changes in China, including the Great Leap Forward, with Fugui trying his best to keep his family safe amidst the turmoil. Several tragic events follow, including the death of his son in an accident and his daughter during childbirth. The film’s end portrays an elderly Fugui, optimistic about his grandson’s future, even after facing a lifetime of challenges.

Throughout the film, the resilience, hope, and endurance of the family stand out, even though the ending hints at a mix of resignation and tentative hope for a brighter future.