Love For Life (Mo shu wai zhuan)

China (2011) Dir. Changwei Gu

Set in the early 1990’s, an AIDS epidemic has spread through a small village due to an illicit blood selling scam perpetrated by Qi Quan (Cunxin Pu) who then profits from this by selling coffins. Among the infected is Qi Quan’s brother De Yi (Aaron Kwok) who, with the rest of the infected people in the village, moves into the now abandoned school where everyone is to be taken care of by De Yi and Qi Quan’s father Zhao (Pu Cunxi). The latest infectee to be ostracised by her family is De Yi’s cousin, Qinqin (Ziyi Zhang) who exacerbates the divide between her and her family by falling for De Yi. Through the discrimination and petty indignation of everyone else, De Yi and Qinqin decide to make the most of their remaining time together.

One of the major social taboo subjects in Chinese cinema is finally exposed with Government backing no less, as well as referencing the controversial blood selling scandal of the 90’s. This film, based on a novel, is therefore a little agenda heavy in places – the actual cause of the epidemic is quickly brushed over in a hastily edited montage sequence – while suffering from a touch of histrionic melodrama.

The story, oddly enough, is narrated by 12 year-old Zhao Xiaoxin, Qi Quan’s dead son and first victim and moves swiftly along as the infected villagers – played by real life HIV sufferers – are exiled to the school where personality clashes are rife. When the De Yi/Qinqin affair begins its no secret and Qinqin’s bullying husband shows up to take Qinqin back only to throw her out again. The second half of the film is focused more on the backlash surrounding this infidelity rather then than the social persecution for having AIDS before the final days of the doomed couple arrive which are fraught with some overacting and odd ideas. For instance, when De Yi is hit by a fever Qinqin cools him down by submerging herself in an ice cold tub then wraps her body against his. As much as I get the symbolism of Qinqin doing this as a sign of her love and devotion for De Yi but wouldn’t a wet towel be just as effective? Some dodgy exploitation there I think.

Hardly any characters are that likeable, with the possible exception of the long suffering Zhao, who tries to please everyone since he takes the fall for his son’s deplorable actions. Qi Quan is almost comically remorseless towards his actions (since people willingly sold their blood purely for profit) and yet suffers no backlash as his wealth grows. Qinqin’s husband is equally heartless, demanding De Yi’s house before divorcing the dying and cheating wife he hates. Just odd. While Ziyi Zhang (returning after a two year absence) gives her all to the role during the final scenes, she is still too glam to be an impoverished country dweller, while Aaron Kwok is also too stylish and stands out like a sore thumb. Also denying the film some much needed credibility is any signs of physical deterioration of the two leads a’la Tom Hanks in Philadelphia; they remain healthy looking to the end and no amount of sweating and bruising will suggest otherwise. On the plus side the cinematography is gorgeous and the bucolic feeling of the country village is palpable.

A bold project that should have hit a home run but gets bogged down with some heavily controlled misplaced ideas, this is a solid if flawed watch.