Starring: Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, Zhang Ziyi, Pu Cunxin
Director: Gu Changwei
Category: IIB (Putonghua)
Love for Life, mainstream Chinese cinema's first stab at the taboo subject of Aids, is an intriguing yet unbalanced movie that mixes social critique with sentimental romance.
The film is set in a rural village hit hard by Aids after residents get involved in illegal blood transfusions. Dozens of victims, including the married Deyi (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing) and the newly wed farm woman Qinqin (Zhang Ziyi, above with Kwok), hole up in a school, awaiting death. Predictably, the pair fall for each other. The plot then becomes a love story about two desperate lovers striving to divorce their estranged spouses to marry each other in the face of discrimination and ailing health.
Director Gu Changwei strives to provide a realist look at an Aids-infected village by touching on the thorny issues of illicit blood selling and extreme rural poverty, symptoms of a dysfunctional society marked by material excess and moral bankruptcy. The sad and comical scene of an Aids victim awed by a designer coffin speaks volumes about the contemporary Chinese psyche, twisted by desperation and poverty.
Unfortunately, the movie - which counts Aids patients among its cast and crew - fails to realise its potential as a neo-realist commentary. Its moral critique is cancelled out by star power, which blinds us to the more poignant and sensitive issues. Eventually, the plot is stripped of all complexities and degenerates into a straightforward love-against-all-odds melodrama.
Zhang's performance is flashy as always, and her showy presence in the film is a distraction. Sex appeal has always been a major weapon in Zhang's armoury. Yet the spectacle of her doing laundry in a flimsy dress and, in perhaps the most bizarre movie climax of the year, wrapping her naked body around Deyi to alleviate his fever, is morally repugnant in the context of an Aids tragedy. Kwok, on the other hand, has apparently thrown himself into the role of a likable character emanating hope and energy. Yet his performance still smacks of an actor trying too hard, suggesting there's something about the material that is beyond the grasp of the talented pop dancer-turned-thespian.
Breaking new ground, Love for Life achieves as much as it has failed to do because of its commercial orientation. We look forward to more mainstream movies that bring to light the impact of the Aids epidemic on China.
Love for Life opens today