The Time to Live and the Time to Die (1985)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Family Drama  |   Run Time - 138 min.  |   Countries - China   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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The second film in an autobiographical trilogy that began with The Boys From Fengkuei and ended with A Summer at Grandpa's, A Time to Live and a Time to Die was the first film to draw international attention to its director, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and to a burgeoning Taiwanese New Wave that included Edward Yang and Tsai Ming-Liang. It was also the first of Hou's films to fully employ his distinct directorial style: carefully composed long takes of exquisite beauty that simultaneously create distance from the characters and draw the viewer intimately into their lives. Shot in the town where Hou actually grew up, this quiet, wistful film follows the fortunes of a family based on Hou's own. The household is dominated by a melancholy father and a senile grandmother, both consumed by a longing to return to mainland China that gradually wastes them away. Their sorrow is passed on to the film's protagonist, Ah-ha, as a restless alienation that leads him into juvenile delinquency, rebellion, and finally, in the motionless tableau that concludes the film, a kind of shocked acceptance. A Time to Live and a Time to Die struck a chord with Taiwanese audiences, particularly members of Hou's generation, who had been raised by parents who refused to consider Taiwan their home, and instilled in their children a similar sense of impermanence. Few other films are so effective at showing how political tragedies can become personal ones as well.