(Mandarin and Hakka dialogue)
Despite being built on familiar Chinese stereotypes, “Live in Peace” is a surprisingly involving tale about family disharmony that manages to portray a mix of emotions without tipping into caricature. Boosted by several good performances, and directed with some care by journeyman Hu Bingliu (best known in the West for so-so rural dramedies like “Country Teachers”), it’s a solid candidate for Asian film weeks and specialized tube exposure.
Dong (Sun Min) and Fang (Wang Hong) have their hands full running a house contractor’s business in Guangzhou (Canton), as well as being constantly troubled by Dong’s elderly, grouchy mother, Xi (Pan Yu), who lives alone and bawls out all the hired help they’ve found her. Fang refuses to let the old crone move in with them, so when sweet young out-of-towner Shanmei (Bai Xueyun) turns up, they give her the thankless job.
Story follows the expected path of slow rapprochement between Xi and Shanmei, who wins the old lady over through a combination of generosity and determination , especially when she accompanies Xi on a visit to her native Hakka village. It soon becomes clear, however, that the only long-term solution is to move Xi into an old people’s home.
Structured more as a series of character-defining incidents than a drama with a strong plotline, pic sidesteps the expected homilies about caring for the aged and, apart from a couple of cliched moments (mostly centered on the ratty Fang and her milksop husband), builds into a convincing portrait of cross-generational attitudes to life and work. Pacing is a tad over-relaxed, and could do with some tightening, but the characters — especially as played by Pan as the wonderfully spunky Xi, Bai as the charmingly resolute Shanmei and Kong Xianzhu as an elderly fish-seller friend of Xi — emerge as fully rounded people rather than the cut-outs threatened at the start. Final scenes are discreetly moving.
Tech credits are solid, and use of direct sound a realistic plus. Released in the fall, pic won two prizes at the 1997 Shanghai fest.