Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Day 32: Bride from To Live

This is how people got married in 1960s China! The circular pins feature a portrait of Chairman Mao. She's holding a Little Red Book off-frame, too. :P

Based on a still frame from my To Live (活着) DVD. I did a terrible job with the eyes. This looks nothing like the actress, but luckily the actress isn't famous anyway (that was her only film), so you don't know who you're supposed to recognize. :P The eyes actually looked better before, but I erased them in order to try to match the actress better. Instead, I still failed to match, and the eyes look even worse now. I gave up on trying to tweak them. I did draw them right-side up this time, so maybe I should try upside-down again next time?

To Live was directed by Zhang Yimou, who had previously directed Raise the Red Lantern, and would go on to make Hero, House of Flying Daggers, etc. I've always felt that his later martial arts movies were pale imitations of Crouching Tiger, but To Live is one of my favorite movies. I describe it to people as the Forrest Gump of China. It's about the lives of a couple from the 1940s through the 1970s, a tumultuous period in China that spanned the Chinese Civil War, World War II, the success of the Communist Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, the resulting famine officially called the Three Years of Natural Disasters (in which some 15-30 million people died), and the Cultural Revolution. There's a lot of heavy stuff, but the film also has a deft touch of humor, sometimes broad, often subtle.

The movie, made in 1994, was banned in China. Zhang Yimou himself was banned from directing any movies for two years. Later in life, he went on to direct those politically safe martial arts movies, and even the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Some say he sold out. Personally, I think he proved everything he needed to prove with To Live, and while I would love to see more challenging films from him, I don't think he owes me a thing.

I guess this movie has special resonance for me because I know my own parents and most of my relatives lived through this stuff. I saw this movie for the first time with my family, and whenever something totally insane happened, they would tell me that the reality was even crazier!

Perhaps the best example of insanity was during the Great Leap Forward, when Chairman Mao became determined to surpass steel production of the UK within 15 years. How would he achieve this? Why, by asking everyone in the country to take all their iron, and burn it in furnaces into useless slag, of course! If you tried to withhold even a doorknob, you were billed an anti-revolutionary, and awful things could happen to you.

I guess the thing I most want to keep in mind with this stuff is that crazy revolutions and stuff aren't just stuff you seen in the movies. It really happened to my parents. And it could happen anywhere. We can never take peace for granted.

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