Shi Hui, driven to suicide in Mao's 'Anti-Rightist Purge' of the late 1950s, was one of the greatest screen actors ever and a very fine director; this adaptation of a short story by Lao She was probably his best work. An old man (Shi, 22 at the time) dying on the winter streets of Beijing looks back over a lifetime of defeats, betrayals and humiliations, from his enlistment in the city's police force in 1910 to his arrest and imprisonment in 1946 for trying to denounce an official who collaborated with the invading Japanese. Rich in Beijing argot, the film is superbly acted and observed. Communist censors forced Shi to add a 'positive' coda (the policeman's son is seen as a soldier in the communist army), but the underlying idea that ordinary Chinese have suffered abysmal government all century comes through loud and clear.
Cast and crew