In 1940s China, Fugui (Ge), a reckless young man, gambles away his family home and all his wealth. His wife Jiazhen (Gong) leaves with their young daughter and unborn son, and Fugui must find work to support himself. The family reconciles when son Youqing (Fei) is born, but they now endure a humble, hardscrabble existence. We follow their fortunes through a tumultuous period in Chinese history, most notably the societal upheaval brought about by Mao Tse-Tung. Through it all, the long-suffering Jiazhen simply wants to lead a simple life.
Why we love it
This sweeping yet intimate epic is the sixth film from filmmaker Zhang and his fifth to star his muse (and then lover) Gong Li. The film was banned in China for its perceived criticism of pro-Mao activities, and Zhang also received a two-year ban on making films. But Zhang managed to sneak it out of China, and, eventually, "Live" won several awards at Cannes. The marvel of the film lies in the naturalistic way Zhang tells the story of one family against a backdrop of enormous change. Gong and Ge both give textured, deeply felt performances in a story that seamlessly blends joy, heartbreak, tragedy and survival. A triumph.