The Time to Live and the Time to Die (Tong nien wang shi)

The Time to Live and the Time to Die

Can’t go on, can’t go on; can’t go on living…

I don’t know what I was expecting with The Time to Live and the Time to Die, but I wasn’t expecting it to be such a chore to get through. This film, slightly over two hours long, took me three days to watch the whole thing; mostly because I would get disillusioned with the film and stop it to go do something else, and every time I would go to start the film back up where I had left it, I’d remember how tedious the effort to watch it was, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Frankly, I don’t know how I got through it all; this was one of the most aimless films I’ve ever seen. Still, though, I can’t give it a bad rating because of that; it’s merely the film’s intention to be cautious and contemplative, rather than hold interest. But that does run into the problem, for the viewer, of holding interest; it doesn’t.

The film is clearly a semi-autobiographical account; the film starts out with a message from the main character explaining the film and how it is a reflection on his life and experiences, and it might as well have been said straight from the director’s own mouth. From there, we follow our main character, Ah-ha, the young boy that is apparently the director’s stand-in, as he adjusts to his new life in Taiwan after he and his family moves there from the mainland, and how his new life and potential coming-of-age choices bring conflict between himself and his family. I struggled initially with trying to come up with the best way to describe the film’s mise en scene, until I came up with this: the film’s various elements, such as acting, music, plot, and editing, aren’t a cohesive whole, but rather are spread out into individual parts through the length of the film, flip-flopping back and forth between them whenever the director sees fit to utilize them. For example, the first hour or so follows Ah-ha as he goes about being a young boy, living his life with his family and friends, and doing whatever pleases him at the moment. While this gives us a good idea of what he is like as a character, the film spends way more time than is really necessary on this; it’s not until a full hour into the running time that anything that really constitutes a plot point happens (and to top it off, it is dropped on us with pretty much no lead-in whatsoever), so until then, we’re just sitting there, expecting something to happen, when nothing does, which can make for a very disgruntling movie-watching experience. The film is very much drawn from the same well as Yasujiro Ozu’s films; slow, methodical, and deliberate, with little to no care as to the forward momentum of the story, but rather a contentedness to let the actions of the characters play out on their own terms. To some, this will make for a very listless and boring picture, but to others, it may very well be an enlightening and eye-opening look at a foreign family and the coming-of-age drama of a young boy as he acclimates to a new land.

This was another one that I was left with very little to say about it once it was over; it was good, but nothing heart-stoppingly amazing. I garnered a modicum of entertainment trying to figure out why the film was titled what it was, but that passed as the familiar question of why this was selected for the list came up, especially since the director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, also has two other pictures on there. This was very poignant, but I could have easily gone the rest of my life without needing to see this one, and my thought is, you probably could too. If you do decide to trek into this world, though, as long as you know what you’re getting into, this will be a nice peaceful way to spend a couple hours or so. Well, hopefully; I make no guarantees you won’t possibly get bored while you’re sitting around.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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