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Love for Life (also known as Life Is a Miracle; Till Death Do Us Part)

最爱 (Zui Ai)

2011105 mins|Director Gu Changwei 顾长卫


intro

During the early 1990s, in Henan province in central China, the trade in donated blood organised by local businessman Zhao Qiquan has resulted in the HIV/AIDS infection of many poor inhabitants of Ding village. In an attempt to atone for his elder son's criminal acts, and in the absence of any medical or social care provision by the authorities, Zhao's father Old Zhuzhu, a retired village schoolte...

During the early 1990s, in Henan province in central China, the trade in donated blood organised by local businessman Zhao Qiquan has resulted in the HIV/AIDS infection of many poor inhabitants of Ding village. In an attempt to atone for his elder son's criminal acts, and in the absence of any medical or social care provision by the authorities, Zhao's father Old Zhuzhu, a retired village schoolteacher, is trying to look after the victims of the epidemic by organising them into a kind of commune housed in the former village school buildings. There, the HIV-positive villagers, many of whom have been rejected by their families and friends and who include Zhuzhu's younger son Deyi, share communal meals and sleeping quarters and attempt to offer each other mutual aid and support. But many HIV-positive villagers have already died and once they realise that rumours of a miracle cure are without foundation, the outlook for the survivors appears uniformly bleak. However, with the arrival of the young and beautiful Shang Qinqin (Zhang Ziyi), who has contracted HIV after selling her blood to buy cosmetics and has been rejected by her husband and family, a passionate love affair develops between Deyi (Aaron Kwok) and Qinqin in defiance both of social convention and of their short expectation of life. During the Spring, they set up house together and subsequently divorce their respective spouses in order to remarry. However, 'the fever', as HIV/AIDS infection is referred to in the film, has only relaxed its grip temporarily, and when Deyi falls dangerously ill, a tragic fate soon befalls both lovers.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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screening notes

context

Love for Life is the first 'mainstream' Chinese cinematic response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic which affected an unknown number, but probably several hundred thousand people, in 5 provinces of central China during the 1990s. In striking contrast to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the West and in Africa during the 1980s and '90s, in China most of the victims were poor peasants who sold their blood to local ...

Love for Life is the first 'mainstream' Chinese cinematic response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic which affected an unknown number, but probably several hundred thousand people, in 5 provinces of central China during the 1990s. In striking contrast to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the West and in Africa during the 1980s and '90s, in China most of the victims were poor peasants who sold their blood to local entrepreneurs or large-scale commercial operators simply in order to boost their meagre incomes, and were infected by the unsafe practices of pooling blood and plasma, reusing needles and reinjecting donors with plasma which were commonplace in rural locations until the late 1990s. This epidemic, probably the greatest public health and political scandal to affect China during the 'Reform' era, was long met with denial on the part of the authorities and by police repression, criminal prosecution, imprisonment and censorship of the few activists who dared to try to expose and publicise the true nature and scale of the epidemic and the large measure of responsibility born by corrupt or complacent officials who had failed for so long to take any effective action to check the spread of the epidemic. In the early 2000s, the controversial novelist Yan Lianke sought to draw public attention to the plight of the HIV-positive rural population through the medium of fiction with his novel A Dream of Ding Village (2006), on which Gu Changwei's film is based. Yan Lianke was in turn inspired and advised by veteran HIV/AIDS activist Dr. Gao Yaojie, who knew the situation in Henan first-hand and had been placed under house arrest for attempting to expose official neglect or complicity in the spread of HIV/AIDs infection through the mass commercialisation of blood donation during the 1990s. Gu Changwei consulted both Dr. Gao and Yan Lianke in developing the screenplay and scenario of Love for Life, and although many modifications had to be made to the film at the insistence of the censors, ironically it was given a general cinematic release while Yan Lianke's novel was still banned from sale to the public. Love for Life marks an important stage in the Chinese state's belated recognition of the scale and seriousness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a public health problem, and the change in official attitudes towards greater social acceptance and an end to discrimination against HIV-positive people China.

The Director Gu Changwei (b. Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, 1957) first became internationally well known in the 1980s and '90s as cinematographer for Chen Kaige (King of the Children; Farewell My Concubine), Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum; Ju Dou) and Jiang Wen (In the Heat of the Sun; Devils on the Doorstep), before finally turning to direct his own films. His debut feature film as a director, Peacock (2005), won him the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2005. More recently, he has scored a notable commercial and financial success with the romantic comedy Love on the Cloud (2014) starring the Hong Kong actress, model and pop singer Angelababy (Angela Yeung Wing).

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore), Patrizia LIBERATI (Istituto di Cultura Italiana, Beijing) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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synopsis & relevance

Based on Yang Lianke’s novel A Dream of Ding Village (2006), Love for Life is the first feature film on the HIV/AIDS epidemic to be made for a mass audience in China, and although the script and screenplay had to be modified many times in order to pass the censorship, the film remains probably the best-known fictional account of the tragedy which overcame the ‘AIDS villages’ of Henan province duri...

Based on Yang Lianke’s novel A Dream of Ding Village (2006), Love for Life is the first feature film on the HIV/AIDS epidemic to be made for a mass audience in China, and although the script and screenplay had to be modified many times in order to pass the censorship, the film remains probably the best-known fictional account of the tragedy which overcame the ‘AIDS villages’ of Henan province during the early and mid-1990s, not least because of the celebrity status of its two lead performers, Zhang Ziyi and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing. The film is also remarkable for showing a major epidemic in the heart of China taking place in the complete absence of any medical or public health intervention, and of any attempt by local or central government either to contain the epidemic or to alleviate the suffering and social exclusion of the victims. However, despite supposedly being in the vanguard of a new era of greater openness and honesty about the true nature and causes of the central China HIV/AIDS epidemic, the film remains unclear or evasive about many key aspects of its subject-matter, and is therefore arguably of only limited value as a source of reliable public information. Thus throughout the film, AIDS is always referred to as ‘the fever’, never by its globally accepted medical name, and because it deals with an epidemic caused very largely by infected blood and plasma donations, other common causes of HIV/AIDS infection, whether through sexual transmission or intravenous drug use, are largely ignored. Moreover, it is noteworthy that although the two central characters are both HIV-positive, neither of them actually dies as a direct result of their HIV infection. Although the blood merchant Zhao Qiquan is depicted in the worst possible light, there is never any attempt critically to examine the moral implications and public health consequences of the Chinese policy of paying for blood donations, while the complicity of the authorities in allowing the epidemic to spread unchecked and then attempting to conceal its true extent and gravity is also largely passed over in silence.

From a Medical Humanities standpoint, and in spite of the film's rather melodramatic conclusion, the scenes of Zhao Deyi and Shang Qinqin's blossoming love affair, subsequent shared domestic life and eventual marriage which make up much of the second half of the movie could also be interpreted as a powerful illustration of the theory particularly associated with the work of Professor Havi Carel (Carel, 2008) that there is no straightforward relationship between illness or health status and well-being, and that people with serious or even terminal illness may nevertheless experience high levels of well-being.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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cinematography

As well as veering between docudrama, melodrama and tragedy in terms of genre, Love for Life combines a number of contrasting cinematic styles, ranging from social realism to dreamlike fantasy, as befits a film adapted from a novel entitled A Dream of Ding Village which is narrated by a dead child. It also contains many moments of grotesque humour and black comedy, as the sheer horror of what is t...

As well as veering between docudrama, melodrama and tragedy in terms of genre, Love for Life combines a number of contrasting cinematic styles, ranging from social realism to dreamlike fantasy, as befits a film adapted from a novel entitled A Dream of Ding Village which is narrated by a dead child. It also contains many moments of grotesque humour and black comedy, as the sheer horror of what is taking place prompts hitherto ordinary people to react in extreme and sometimes wholly inappropriate ways, and threatens to drive even those not directly affected by the disease, such as the greedy, self-obsessed Zhao Qiquan, to the brink of madness. However, perhaps the most notable aspect of the film-making is the presence of many non-professional actors and set workers, several of whom are themselves HIV-positive, living and working alongside the celebrity lead actors on the very isolated rural set location. Even without the co-production of the documentary Together, about the making of Love for Life and the development of close friendships and mutually supportive relations between the HIV-negative and HIV-positive members of the cast and crew, this is surely the strongest message conveyed by the film to the wider Chinese audience.

Dr. Marta HANSON (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore), Patrizia LIBERATI (Istituto di Cultura Italiana, Beijing) and Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)

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points for discussion

How does the story use the three generations of the Zhao family to represent different dimensions of the ‘fever’ in the village?
Do the two different terms for the disease or fever in the film - aizi (爱滋) and (rebing 热病) – convey the same or different experiences and responses to it?
What is the underlying moral message of the movie related to HIV/AIDS in China?
Does it have a wider application be...

  • How does the story use the three generations of the Zhao family to represent different dimensions of the ‘fever’ in the village?

  • Do the two different terms for the disease or fever in the film - aizi (爱滋) and (rebing 热病) – convey the same or different experiences and responses to it?

  • What is the underlying moral message of the movie related to HIV/AIDS in China?

  • Does it have a wider application beyond the specifically Chinese experience of HIV/AIDs?

  • How is the Chinese state personified in different ways by different characters? And at different moments in the movie? How is the state materially represented in the film?

  • Although the book the film is based on was titled Dream of Ding Village (Dingzhuang meng), why is the film called Zuiai 最爱 in Chinese and Love for Life (or variants Life is a Miracle or Till Death Do Us Part) in English? What’s lost by giving up the book title? What is gained or emphasized with the film title?

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availability


external links


teaching and learning

Chan, Shelley W. ‘Narrating Cancer, Disabilities, and AIDS: Yan Lianke's Trilogy of Disease’, Ch. 6 in Chow, ed., Discourses of Disease (2016): 177-99.
Chow, Howard Y.F. Discourses of Disease: Writing Illness, the Mind and Body in Modern China (Leiden: Brill, 2016).
Qian, Kun. ‘Reluctant Transcendence: AIDS and the Catastrophic Condition in Gu Changwei's Film Love for Life’, Ch. 7 in Chow, ed., Di...

Chan, Shelley W. ‘Narrating Cancer, Disabilities, and AIDS: Yan Lianke's Trilogy of Disease’, Ch. 6 in Chow, ed., Discourses of Disease (2016): 177-99.

Chow, Howard Y.F. Discourses of Disease: Writing Illness, the Mind and Body in Modern China (Leiden: Brill, 2016).

Qian, Kun. ‘Reluctant Transcendence: AIDS and the Catastrophic Condition in Gu Changwei's Film Love for Life’, Ch. 7 in Chow, ed., Discourses of Disease (2016): 203-30.

Jun, Jing. ‘From Commodity of Death to Gift of Life’, in Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yau, Jing Jun et al, Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person. What Anthropology and Psychiatry Tell Us about China Today (Berkeley and Los Angeles, Calif., and London; University of California Press, 2011), Ch. 2, 78-105, especially pp. 80-95, ‘The Central China AIDS Epidemic’ [Provides in-depth background to the films based on a detailed factual account and statistical and sociological analysis of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in rural central China during the early 1990s]

Guo Jinhua and Kleinman, Arthur. Stigma: HIV/AIDS, Mental Illness and China’s Nonpersons, in Kleinman, Yau, Jun et al, Deep China (2011), ‘Stigma related to HIV/AIDS’, pp. 248-256, and ‘Conclusion’, pp. 256-259

Carel, Havi. Illness: The Cry of the Flesh (London; Acumen, 2008)

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