‘Love for Life’ a Chinese film by Changwei Gu is set in a small Chinese village, where an illicit trade in human blood has resulted in the spread of HIV. Sounds bleak, I know, but alas a glimmer of hope. Deyi (played by Aaron Kwok) and a newly married girl Qinqin (Ziyi Zhang), both HIV sufferers, fall in love despite their worsening health and risk everything to pursue a final chance at happiness. Can love really conquer all? This film is tragically beautiful and possesses the classic star-crossed lovers complex.
We are told right at the beginning of the picture that the story is set in the 1990’s and is completely fictional. The latter may be disappointing. However, the authenticity set in place and the reality of the controversial matter of HIV in China inhibits you to ponder. The use of gentle similes and adjectives used to describe the fever, opening the film, masks the severity of the disease and what’s in store. The harsh virus set to such soft undertones seems to make it all the more tragic, “everyone who got it died like falling leaves”. 12-year-old Xin narrates whom we later see in his coffin. He explains that his father Qiquan is responsible for the blood-selling scheme that led to many of the villagers contracting AIDs, Xin being one sufferer.
Qiquan is shunned from the village along with his AID’s infected younger brother Deyi and their father Zhu. To make up for his eldest son’s transgressions, Zhu suggests that all the infected should reside in a nearby school, which, has since been left, abandoned. The villagers agree. Despite, the idea being short lived, the villagers discover that the world outside treats them like contagious vermin and so the school is reopened. These parts can be quite comical. Deyi purposely sneaks round the other uninfected villagers, making a laugh at their melodramatic reactions to his presence. Life throws the infected numerous obstacles and the school continue to close and reopen.
The school is where Deyi meets exquisite Qinqin. Qinqin is married to uninfected Xiaohai, Deyi’s abusive cousin and Deyi is married to uninfected Haoyan. Both their partners have been distant and cold towards them since becoming infected by AID’s. Deyi and Qinqin fall quickly and hopelessly in love. However, their antics are soon discovered by their lawful partners and soon enough want divorces. The couple has to overcome numerous social hurdles as well as the terminal illness they both share. But after much trial and tribulation Deyi and Qinqin finally have a chance to be together.
As the film progresses and we learn more about the other characters, we also witness their declining health and eventual deaths. It’s saddening but thanks to the great back-stories and bright personalities we experience at the beginning of the film, you remember them for them not their illness. Deyi is particularly enjoyable. Deyi remains adventurous and playful, embodying the ‘nothing to lose’ bravado along with the “every day counts” motto. His sense of humour refreshes the film and uplifts the heavy subject matter, as well as fragile Qinqin. The only thing I found quite odd about Deyi and Qinqin in terms of characterization was the introduction to an Oedipus Complex. Deyi begins calling Qinqin ‘Mommy’ and her to him ‘Daddy’, maybe it had something to do with them being their only family now or something more psychological.
Deyi and Qinqin wish to marry to make their courtship official to the law and so they can be buried together. Once married, red and pinks in particular invade the screen and the couple parade around the village handing out celebration sweets. However, their shining happiness is short lived.
Deyi becomes extremely ill and Qinqin is at his beck and call. He has an unbelievably high fever and begs for ice, despite Qinqin’s many desperate attempts at bathing him in water. As Deyi burns up Qinqin decides to cascade herself in a large bucket of water, chilling her bones. She than runs inside and drapes herself over Deyi to try and cool his temperature. It’s a beautiful moment in the film, possibly my favourite. Qinqin does this repeatedly until we see a shot of them sleeping. The next day Qinqin is seen dead on the floor and devastated Deyi begins literally chopping at his limbs. The couple dies but the film ends with them on their wedding day. Qinqin repeats the words printed on their marriage permits, both lovers happiness shining in abundance. We then hear Xin and the same landscape we saw at the beginning of the film.
Moments I found visually potent include the flashbacks of the blood transfusions, which, appear in black and white, crimson being the only colour highlighted. This bleak sequence is played alongside a young girls heart wrenching cries, Qiquans’ daughter. For me this small series implies how quickly and viciously the disease plagued the village, it’s quite harrowing. Another treat is Qinqin and Deyi’s wedding day, with the vibrant reds set against light greys and hopeful happiness. Red and pink is a dominant colour in the film anyway, symbolizing the colour and power of blood and love. It’s very effective.
‘Love For Life’ is loving and gentle despite the controversy and tragedy set in place by the subject matter. The characters are heart felt and strong, making it not as painful as you’d initially think to view.
Word Count: 898