Life on a String 边走边唱(1991)
Directed by Chen Kaige
Life on a String (simplified Chinese: 边走边唱; pinyin: Biān zǒu biān chàng; literally "Walking and singing at the same time") is a 1991 Chinese film by acclaimed film director Chen Kaige. Made before his international breakthrough Farewell, My Concubine, Life on a String is a more intimate and philosophical affair, telling the story of a blind sanxian player and his young disciple. The film was based on the novel by Shi Tiesheng. The film was entered into the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.
Chen Kaige's most philosophical work, Life on A String (1991) was adapted from a story by Shi Tiesheng about a blind storyteller and his young disciple. As a young boy, the blind storyteller was given a Chinese banjo known as a sanxian and told of a sacred prescription to blindness trapped within it. But it is only after the thousandth string is broken that the instrument will open up and reveal its medicinal secret. After years of performance, the thousandth string is finally broken and the prescription revealed. Ironically, the prescription is blank and the old blind man's faith is shattered. In many ways, the film deals with issues of Chinese nationalism. The dichotomy between the young apprentice and the old man is reminiscent of the false sense of hope and ideologies presented by China's leaders and a political rumination about the people who follow them. In the director's own words, Kaige explains the consequences in following false hope:
It is important for the old man to believe in something, even though this belief finally comes to naught. Actually, he does get a great deal back from life by saving people, and I can identify with this, because I know it's important that people have something to believe in. But disastrous consequences can also result from such beliefs and illusory dreams. Look at the Cultural Revolution. How many Chinese believed in it, and yet how many will now take any responsibility for that illusion?
Aside from its controversial political agenda, the film captures Kaige's unique aesthetic vision through cinematic terms. Kaige paints a mesmerizing background on screen with colorful imagery and pays special attention to artistic composition echoes Japanese theories on positive and negative space. A commercial failure in the movie market, the visual power of the film was not enough to win over critics and audiences.