Life on a String

Overview

Life on a String is Chen Kaige's most philosophical and enigmatic work to date. The film depicts the life of two blind musicians, a master and a disciple, as they wander through rural China. Liu Zhongyuan stars as the older, banjo-playing musician who believes that his sight will be restored after wearing out his 1000th string. While the master regards music as a means to a higher level of wisdom, his disciple views music as a thoroughly sensual experience to be enjoyed in the present. As the film progresses, the...
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Overview

Life on a String is Chen Kaige's most philosophical and enigmatic work to date. The film depicts the life of two blind musicians, a master and a disciple, as they wander through rural China. Liu Zhongyuan stars as the older, banjo-playing musician who believes that his sight will be restored after wearing out his 1000th string. While the master regards music as a means to a higher level of wisdom, his disciple views music as a thoroughly sensual experience to be enjoyed in the present. As the film progresses, the young musician falls for a village girl, resulting in tragedy, while the old musician reaches his final string, only to find himself in for a shock. The result is a thought-provoking fable on the nature of art and the artist.
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Special Features

[None specified]
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
A feature-length minstrel's ballad on the determination of hope, Chen Kaige's Life on a String is a transporting cinematic journey through a fantastical Chinese landscape, one as likely to exist in the main character's mind as in any reality. The director wears his allegorical intentions on his sleeve from the opening moments, when a blind child, at his mentor's death bed, receives the prophecy that his sight will return when he breaks his 1,000th banjo string. Sixty years hence, the man has aged into a beloved traveling musician, a character who might be described as Christ-like if this were a Western film. But Chen has no simple, one-dimensional view of this archetypal blind saint. Buried beneath his ability to spread good are an array of human envies, including a burning desire to reverse the very condition that seems to have delivered him such enlightenment. The film surges with emotion during Liu Zhongyuan's musical numbers, which range from the playfulness of American folk music to the sweeping urgency of opera. Liu conveys as much of his character's inner conflicts with his expressive singing voice as with his subtle characterization. The viewer only wishes the man could see the world Chen has imagined for him, with its expansive deserts, its bustling marketplaces, and its areas of quiet refuge, like the way station by the waterfall, a recurring shelter in his travels. The film's setting is purposefully removed from place and time to underscore the greater themes. The rebellions and romantic struggles of his young apprentice, also blind, are less interesting, if only because they steal screen time from Liu's magnetic performance. But the greatest kudos belong to Chen, confident enough in his earnest vision to shoot a battle sequence from a mile's distance -- its miniscule combatants removed both physically and metaphorically, but not immune to the contagious hope of the blind man's song.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 1/8/2002
  • UPC: 738329023324
  • Original Release: 1990
  • Rating:

  • Source: Kino Video
  • Aspect Ratio: Theatre Wide-Screen (1.85.1)
  • Presentation: Letterbox
  • Language: Mandarin
  • Time: 1:47:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 61,638

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Liu Zhongyuan Old Musician
Huang Lei Young Musician
Xu Qing Lanxiu
Yao Jingou
Ma Ling Noodleshop Owner's Wife
Zhang Zhenguan
Technical Credits
Chen Kaige Director, Screenwriter
Karl Baumgartner Producer
Gu Changwei Cinematographer
Masato Hara Associate Producer
Donald Ranvaud Producer
Cai Rubin Producer
Shao Ruigang Art Director
Pei Xiaoan Editor
Tian Zhuangzhuang Score Composer
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. From Young to Old [4:57]
2. Riverside Visitors [8:41]
3. Songs of Sun and Fire [9:39]
4. The Blind Man's Way [8:29]
5. Courtship [9:06]
6. Wait and See [7:52]
7. Agony of the Saint [10:13]
8. The 1,000th String [9:06]
9. Shidou Is Alone [9:45]
10. Prescription for Sight [8:19]
11. Riverside Reflections [6:35]
12. One Day... [7:31]
13. The Butterfly Kite [6:13]
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Menu

Side #1 --
   Play the Movie
   Chapter Selection
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