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Zhang Films

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Submitted By reginaldkopfman
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Steven Spielberg wrote in Time Magazine that at the core of Zhang Yimou’s filmography “was the idea that the conflict of man foretells the desire for inner peace”. Spielberg’s statement precisely embodies the underlying meaning in both films “To Live” and “Hero” (Person of the Year). Both films reinforce the idea that humanity conquers all. Humility and benevolence are hard to come by, easily trotted upon, and often taken advantage of. However, it is only through personal strife that we often embody these qualities and begin to develop inner piece. Both films employ powerful and sad events to help expose political shortcomings and ailments that have a direct and real result on society. I believe that at the heart of Yimou’s cinematography is the idea that, after all is said and done, goodwill humanity will prevail.

In “To Live”, a Chinese family experiences more misfortunes than blessings. Because of gambling, unfortunate circumstances, and political instability and change, we see Fugui and his family go through a traumatic transformation from riches to rags. But what’s captivating to watch is that as life becomes more difficult and situations worsen, Fugui begins to appreciate the finer things in life. He soul wakes up to morality and purpose when for so long it was bogged down by selfishness, power, and earthly desires. Through cultural symbolism, we are reminded of the important values perpetuated by this film. From the puppet shows to an eclectic mix of Chinese instrumentation, the film garners your attention despite the language barrier.

While grabbing your attention through effective story telling, it is the family’s plight that keeps you watching. Fugui’s wife only desire is that they “can live a quite life together”. Both of Fugui’s children die in tragic, revolting accidents. Despite the immense losses in Fugui and Jiazhen’s lives, they keep persevering. To Live is not just a title, it’s their philosophy. To keep living and to keep what’s important in life close are simple, yet important, lessons that viewers take away from the film. We see that it’s important to treasure precious moments for they happen just once.

In “Hero”, Nameless, played by Jet Li, has killed China’s three most treacherous assassins. These three assassins have been trying to kill China’s emperor for more than a decade. The entire movie, we relive the variations of the story of how Nameless was able to kill these three assassins, a feat almost impossible. The emperor begins to see flaws in his story. As the film progresses, we begin to decipher what really happened and Nameless begins to divulge more of the truth.

Nameless eventually explains, to much of the emperor’s deduction, that the three assassins, Snow, Broken Sword, and Sky, all laid down their lives for a greater good. Through the use of two simple words, “our land”, Broken Sword was able to convince Nameless to spare the emperor. More importantly, the lesson he learned would have far greater implications later and is by far the most powerful symbology of this film. Nameless exposes the vulnerability of the emperor and the flaws of his current thought process. Nameless could have killed the emperor but instead purposefully stabs him with the sword’s pommel. He reminds the emperor of the power his seat holds and his unprecedented opportunity to unite a country and stop war. Nameless died an assassin but is revered as an hero because of his influence on the emperor’s decision to unite and pacify China.

While the story lines for these two films are completely different, they are very similar in meaning. “Hero” teaches us that we often learn and appreciate best about ourselves, others, or life, when we are put in circumstances that are unfamiliar and out of our comfort zone. In “To Live” we see similar sacrifices and regrets. While we can’t understand why bad things happen to good people, we see in these films that it’s important to persevere and do what’s best for everyone involved. By pressing on and releasing selfishness we can begin to find inner peace.

Both films have vivid, colorful imagery. “Hero’s” shot selections and scenes are majestic. From the lake fight scene, to the detailed transfer of rain droplets, to arrow-defending martial artistry that almost seems like a violent but controlled dance, “Hero’s” aesthetic beauty is extremely satisfactory. “To Live’s” imagery is vivid in a different way. The reaction shots to the traumatic events of the film stand out. The faces of despair are unparalleled. The color red stands out the most, associated with the Chinese communist regime. This film subtly makes rather harsh criticisms of Communism just how “Hero” shows flaws of authoritarian/monarch type regimes.

Perhaps all these similarities that I have pointed out are only accentuated to me because I was looking to intertwine the two films. However, I feel like these specific situations and events that I have highlighted share similar meanings because of the director’s signature. This theme, as so accurately described by Spielberg, is evident when you sit down and absorb the many emotions felt and lessons learned from these films. From “To Live’s” hardships to “Hero’s” sacrifices, the main character’s desires were to be at peace with themselves and others, before death. And in the end, we see that humanity can overcome the most troubling or complicated of circumstances.

"Person Of The Year 2008". Time. 2008-12-17.

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