Movie Review and Style Analysis
The movies ‘Chungking Express’ and ‘To Live’ carry emotional portrayal and historically significant memories in China, respectively. Writers and directors of the films loaded them with symbolic scenes, music, and themes that relay different messages to the audiences. The use of cultural and social symbolic items help to convey the messages intended by the writers effectively. The movies use songs, food, and comparative scenes to accentuate their themes and stories for their audiences to understand.
In the movie, Chungking Express, the use of music is both direct and indirect. It shows the appeal of urban life created by songs and in movie character building and explanation. The song ‘California Dreamin’ is used repeatedly in the second part of the movie. The song, cleverly covered by the actress Faye who hums alongside the tune is consistent with actress’ thought processes. This song ideally involves the singers fantasizing about the life they could be living were they in Los Angeles. The author uses the song to convey the traits and personalities of the characters, specifically Faye. California Dreamin constantly plays loudly in Faye’ scenes, and she is pictured repeatedly listening and dancing to it. The song is used in the second part of the film to show the unrealistic thinking patterns of the Faye. It asserts Faye’s constant thoughts of a life in California and her detachment from the current life she is living in Hong Kong. It accompanies a show of her fantasy about going to California and just how much she loves California.
The song also portrays the encroaching of western culture into the city of Hong Kong and the glorification of American Culture. The song’s description of a beautiful California has grounded Faye’s thoughts which have led to her dissatisfaction with Hong Kong. Faye’s love for loud music is an indicator of her erratic personality and little tolerance for peace. She leaves the volume up while the officer makes his order, and this also points to her disregard for other people. She openly expresses her dislike for thinking which explains her spontaneous actions like breaking into the officer’s house. The use of thematic music that emphasizes her dream world. Her love for loud music and frown upon thinking also points to her unpredictable relationship choices.
Music is an expression of thought and preferences. The music glorifies or condemns actions in society. The song ‘California Dreamin’ paints a beautiful picture of California. The song elevates a picture of solitary urban life and presents it as a better option. It sings to the goodness that comes with living in California. The constant movement of the population out of the city of Hong Kong may be a result of this kind of music. Music in the world of communication has two faces; it can be a tool and a barrier to effective communication. Loud music, for example, may hinder effective communication. Messages relayed by metaphorical music can be as confusing as they can helpful and educative.
The movie ‘To Live’ is famous for its brutal and blatant portrayal of the shortcomings of the communist government. It is a mixture of both the personal life of the main actor and his family and the political events that surround their lives. The movie sets in three ancient times in China, the civil war, the cultural revolution, and the great leap forward movement. Fugui, the main actor, is tossed between two lives, his personal life with his family and the political life. Much of his initial problems result from his love for gambling and little time for his family. The collision between his involvement in political war and his family’s wealth and societal position shows a coexistence and somewhat dependence between political and personal life.
The writer depicts the political life in this movie by the enactment of the civil war using Fugui’s puppet show. The actors are enlisted into the army and are required to perform duties to campaign and support the communists. Political life also extends to the Great Leap Forward Movement where the country makes steel weaponry to fight Taiwan. Political life in the movie is portrayed as chaotic and mysterious. The personal life of the actors presents a two-sided story, with good moments of celebration and dissatisfying moments of confusion, sorrow, and death. Fierce struggles batter the life of Fugui’s family. The role that the political events played was undeniable. For them to prosper, they needed human labour and effort to collect raw material and make weapons. The depiction of a startled and shaken personal life shifts the audience’s emotion and concern to the family of the family in the film.
Personal life, however, may not remain autonomous. Political life is a big influence on the lives of Fugui’s family. The deaths experienced by the family are a result of the political occurrences at the time. However, personal life triumphs over political life in the film. In the scene where Chunsheng comes to apologize to the Fugui family and to give them all his money, Jiazhen refuses to take the money and insists that Chunsheng stays alive for he owes them a life. This scene shows the weight of the loss of their son over that of having wealth and political power, displaying just how independent from politics personal feelings are. The constant expression by Jiazhen of a need for a quiet life also accentuates the weight of a good personal life. In the loss of their wealth and position in the society, Jiazhen says she only wants a quiet life with her family. Emotion and feelings characterize personal life, connecting it to the existential meaning of life and puts it way over the rank and meaning of political life.
Symbolism is a recurring theme in many Chinese films. Activities carried out in the films and symbolic items such as food and physical items that carry cultural significance. In the movie To Live, the use of symbols is evident. Particularly, food is used in the movie to mention different social and communal acts. Spicy noodles and dumplings are two clearly and recurrently used in the film. Youqing uses spicy noodles as a counteract to when local boys bully his sister. He picks up the bowl of spicy noodles and dumps on one of the boy’s head. His father tries to scold and punish him, but his mother defends him and explains to him why Youqing acted the way he did. The use of spicy noodles is, therefore, a counter-revolution to the unjust act of bullying. The spicy noodles play the role of a weapon. A socially constructed weapon to fight against injustices even in the grassroots and by the youngest of the generations.
Dumplings, a famous Chinese delicacy, is also frequently used in the film. The family eats them together at dinner, and people eat them during the local celebration after collecting scrap metal. The dumplings are significant in the events leading to the death of Youqing and in his family’s visit to his grave. Dumplings symbolize wealth and good fortune. They are used to signify good luck. The fact that Youqing’s father insisted that he carry his dumplings to school and to make sure he eats them signifies the cultural appraisal of dumplings. Fugui knew how important it was to eat the dumplings and the good fortune they would bring to his son when he told him he had to listen to live a good life. Jiazhen delivers the dumplings to her son’s grave as a sign that he would be able to sleep well after he ate the dumplings.
The consequence of eating dumplings is having a life filled with luck and good fortune. The dumplings signified that a person would have a good life. A good life is all Jiazhen wanted for his family. Failure to eat dumplings resulted in a string of bad luck to an individual and consequently to their family. The use of spicy noodles in the film solely represents the counter-revolution brewing in the city that focused on reorganizing the effects caused by the previous revolution. The single act of pouring the noodles on the bully’s head signified the will of the young people to change the way of doing things at the time. Through its characteristic style of delivery, it displays the political strategies of the communist government, leading to its official ban in the Chinese mainland (Yu, 2).
In the making of ‘Chungking Express,” the writers and producers intended to show their audience the revolving romantic world and the emotional consequences of heartbreaks. In their delivery, they employed the music tool to demonstrate their story and to build the actors and actresses. ‘To Live’, a movie that uses symbols and a reel through historical times in china shows the coexistence and dependence of the personal and political lives of the people. The two films are efficient in their delivery forms and have attained worldwide recognition as two of the best films in history.
Hua, Yu. “To live.” EDUCATION ABOUT ASIA 8.3 (2003).