In the 1940s, Xu Fugui (Ge You) is the wastrel son of a rich merchant who gambles away the family fortune and loses the valued family mansion in dice throws at the local casino to a puppeteer named Long Er. His old man dies immediately from a heart attack after acknowledging the debt and his lovely wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) becomes a beggar with her adolescent daughter Fengxia and baby son Youqing. The family reunites when Fugui swears off gambling and takes up being a puppeteer in travelling shows, as Long Er retires and lays on him his equipment. The film covers how Fugui got caught up in the civil war between Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalists and the winning Mao Zedong’s communists, surviving the horrors of the battlefield, and then returning home and learning his impoverished daughter has lost her voice and that the family has to learn to survive anew the harshness of the new Communist regime and then the brutality of Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1950’s) and the Cultural Revolution (1960’s). —Ozus’ World Movie Reviews
Zhang Yimou is one of the best-known directors of the Chinese Fifth Generation and one of the most influential and widely respected filmmakers working today. Zhang was born in 1950, in the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, to a future in Communist China that seemed unpromising; his father was an officer in Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Army and one of his brothers was accused of being a spy, while another fled to Taiwan. During the 1950s, his family’s background was suspect and during the convulsive tumult of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, it was criminal. Zhang was pulled out of high school and sent to toil with the peasants. Later, he transferred to a textile factory. While working there, Zhang reportedly sold his own blood to buy his first camera.
In 1978, at the age of 27, Zhang passed the entrance exam for the Beijing Film Academy but was rejected on account of his age. After an appeal to the Ministry of Culture, however, he was enrolled in the B.F.A.‘s class of 1982… read more
An engrossing, compassionate film about a family that's just trying to elad a tranquil life in the midst of tumultuous times. Zhang Yimou plays it safe by staying away from the more disturbing aspects of 20th-century Chinese history, but the plot feels real and the characters are immensely believable.
A true epic. Handled with the skill of David Lean, and starring one of the greatest actresses you'll ever see.