The Time to Live and the Time to Die is the story of a boy in the early 1950’s, baffled by all the grown-up’s talk of “home” on the mainland, unmoved by the portentous news stories that come over the radio; the story of a teenage delinquent in the early 1960s, thrown out of school, getting into fights with rival gangs, feeling the first stirring’s of sexual curiosity. It is Hou’s own voice that speaks the narration at the beginnings and end, confirming the intimacy and the candour of these memories. But this is also the story of a generation, the generation that fled from the hardships of China in the late 1940s, settled in the comparative prosperity of Taiwan and then found itself unable to return. It’s a story never before told on film, and certainly never visualised in such piercing and accurate detail. This has nothing to do with nostalgia. It is founded on a warm but clear-eyed sensitivity to the ways that people talk, think and behave. The result is one of the greatest Chinese films ever made.
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