Alison Mann | Greenland, New Hampshire USA | 06/02/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Let's face facts folks, Chinese movies are not known for being upbeat, but this is really quite the saddest Chinese movie I have ever seen. If the dialogue is bland to some, certainly the cinematography is moving enough to warrant buying the film. To me, the story was more about wishes and realties, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two. The viewer keeps rooting for the two protagonists, the blind singer and his protege, but the stark reality of life's harshness keep interrupting what could be a happy outcome. Nevertheless, the film will keep you guessing, and anyone who says it is boring should stick to movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," because this one is definitely more for the hard core Chinese film fan who is willing to sit through a quiet, moving story to achieve a thoughful state of mind at its end."
queenzulu22 | 09/18/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"this dvd looks like a bad copy from an old vhs tape.
i remember seeing this movie years ago being amazed by its
spectacular images. this dvd print is loaded with
faded and dusty pictures, accompanied by muddy audio tracks.
it is disappointing."
Eyes of the soul always pull the strings of life
kuroneko1 | Istanbul Turkey | 12/14/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Chen Kaige's Life on a String is an interesting drama about a blind musician and his young student in past times of China. Master and student travels through the countryside depending only each other in harsh conditions. Master however is hailed as a saint in villages and highly respected. He dreams of being able to see after breaking the 1000th string on his instrument which is told him by his master when he was very very young.
His student however is different than him, more focused on life itself, and a villager girl who has an eye on him makes issues even more complex and thus causing trouble between 2 man.
Life on string is an early work of Chen Kaige and many people will find it long, heavy and basicly very boring. Film demands your attention fully focused on it and requires your patience.
You need to sit back and watch it peacefully without disruption. It is nearly 2 hours long and you wont see much action here apart from some sad twists of life. But such experience is difficult to comeby these days. Kaige's way of telling the story is nothing less than amazing with great takes of Chinese landscape; the wastelands, furious rivers, small towns and temples. Camera work and cinephotography is amazing and acting is good.Zhong yuan Liu's portrayal of the old blind master who can even ends fighting between clans with his instrument. Of course there is traditional Chinese music and songs which creates a great atmosphere by simply elevating the masters "saint" status while he wa singing.
Story questions life itself, asking what is actually seeing and do we see everything by our eyes only? Although master and the student are both blind they actually are aware of every situation around them and use the eyes of their hearts and souls to see. "2 princes fell to earth from heaven" as master says to his student. God of heaven sent his soldiers to shut their eyes so they could not see the evil and dirt of the earth. Both musicians are pure in one sense having none of earthly desires but one : to be able to see which they already know but unaware.
We see it through may examples like in the scenes where master watches a waterfall blindly while a small rainbow graces this beautiful view. Film also has many philosophic underlines and religious background like God of death appearing in man's form
keeping an eye on the old master, refusing to take any money from him, gracing his food with a burning sauce, preparing freshest noodles for the brave traveller only.When master asks about him an answer comes without hesitation: He is the boss, one and only.
Overall it is a difficult long film by Kaige and should not be mixed by his later work. But although it is demanding, it is also very very promising in terms of beauty of cinema as an art. You need to watch life on a string not only with your eyes but with your heart and soul as well. A beautiful example of cinema as a visual art that always touch the senses like nothing else."
Not for everyone
Carolyn Elkins | 02/22/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This story isn't accessible in a linear way. It isn't the kind of film that you can recommend to all of your friends (unless all of your friends are of one mind) and have them all thank you. The landscape is visually stunning, the folksongs are rich and haunting, and the message is timeless. Now for the but... About forty minutes into it, my husband turned to me and said, "Have you understood anything that has happened so far?" to which I replied, "Not really..." He got up and found something else to do, I stuck it out. The second to the last scene, when the blind old master sings his last song, is worth sitting through everything that comes before--if you are also the kind of person who enjoys gifts like the set of Chinese boxes where every box contains yet another, or delving into e.e. cummings' Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town... I do, my husband doesn't. You decide for yourself."
Beautiful film/flawed transfer
queenzulu22 | glendale, CO United States | 04/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Kaige's work with symbolism and emotion is superb.I initially saw this movie on VHS after reading Hoberman's review in the Village Voice. The pacing is fairly fast, given the length of the story, the activity moves right along. Those folks not use to movies outside the mainstream might feel ackward but give it a chance. At the same time Kino Video has done an atrocious job with the video transfer. The initial 10 minutes the frame shakes and jerks and I guarantee that's not from the original. The resolution is overly grainy, someone else needs to redo the remaster, because this awesome screen parable deserves it."