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To Live (1994) - review, spoilers

Charly C.

Hello, everyone!

You probably already know I like watching movies that are not spoken in English. "To Live" Is a Chinese movie from 1994 and it's also known as "Lifetimes" and the original title is 活着 (read as Huózhe) which means 'alive, to be'.

If you're not familiar with the movie or with the Chinese culture in general, this is an adaptation from a novel by the same name. Of course, there are quite a handful of differences between the two, but I haven't read the story to be able to say what's different or which version i like more.

This is an older movie, but most likely many of you have never heard of it. So, below the picture the orange section of spoilers follows.

This movie, according to Wikipedia, was banned in Mainland China for it portrays the communist party in a bad light. While this may be true, it also portrays the realities of those times quite well.


The main character is Fugui. He's born in a gentry family, but he's gambling his family's fortune away, to the despair of his wife and father. His addiction to gambling, and hope to win, makes him lose his father's house. It's highly implied that the guy against whom he was playing, cheated to win the bet. 

The father dies as soon as he signs away the property's papers. Fugui is forced to find himself a job and he manages to join a shadow puppet theatre group. During one of their performances, the civil war breaks, and Fugui and his companions are captured by the revolutionaries. His troupe entertains the revolutionaries for some time during the Chinese Civil War.

Fugui manages to get back home and reunites with his wife. He also learns that the guy who won the mansion in the bet refused to donate, and was therefore arrested and then executed. Fugui and his wife manage to find proof he served in the revolutionary army, and that they're no longer gentry, in order to avoid execution. 

He continues with his shadow puppet show for some time, but in the end, he must burn the puppets to prove himself a good comrade, as the Communist Party was in charge. This happens during the Cultural Revolution.

Throughout the movie, the couple loses many things:

  • Their home and money
  • Their only son, in an accident.
  • Then their daughter gets married to a really kind and generous man who she fell in love with. The daughter also dies, but during childbirth, due to hemorrhage. Her son survives and is raised by his father and grandparents.

Despite all this misfortune, they manage to survive and overcome their losses. 


I actually really enjoyed the movie as it calmed me down because the sound wasn't very loud. It had some harsher scenes sure, but life really is like that.

In my opinion, this movie really shows how bending or doing things you may not agree with, is really helpful if one wants to stay alive or have a peaceful life.

I also think it was very realistic. It also tells people they can learn to live on less money and less luxury. 

We also learn what really matters more in life: one's family, and not social status, or the "status" expensive items some have the impression they get. 


I rate this movie 4.3 stars out of 5 and I recommend you watch it if you haven't already.

© Charly Cross 2013 - present. All rights reserved.

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