From the pre-communist 1940s, through the revolution, the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and beyond, director Zhang Yimou traces the fortunes of one lowly family in China as larger political and economic forces bear down upon them. Fugui (Ge You) is a wealthy ne'er-do-well who gambles away his family fortune and home, and nearly loses his wife Jiazhen (the ever-incredible Gong Li) and children shortly before Mao's revolution. Swept up first by Chiang's Nationalist troops and then by the Communist forces, Fugui and his friend Chunsheng (Tau Guo) survive by entertaining the soldiers with puppet shows. Reunited, the family (which includes a mute daughter and a feisty little son) try to make do while the topsy-turvy world around them reverses values -- convicting old friends and colleagues of subversion on the flimsiest of evidence, jailing doctors and forcing med students to perform surgery, encouraging neighbors to correct and inform on one another -- and slowly but surely grinds them down and consumes some of them. It's a slow, stately, and perhaps overlong film for many Western viewers, but it provides object lessons in the potential deadliness of relentless "political correctness." (Plot turns may remind one of Orwell's 1984.) As always, Yimou's camera work and eye for color are impressive, and Gong Li does spectacular acting, though the weak will and moral education of the husband are the true center of the tale.
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The review of this Movie prepared by David Loftus