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'At Middle Age': Great Wall Of The Revolution

March 28, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

'At Middle Age" (at the Grande 4-Plex downtown) pays tribute to that generation of Chinese whose youth was blighted by the Cultural Revolution and whose contributions have not been properly appreciated or compensated. It is the third in the Grande's long-running New Films From China series and will play for two weeks.

While it is wise to keep in mind that films don't get made in China, let alone released abroad, without official sanction, it is clear directors Wang Qimin (also the cinematographer) and Sun Yu and writer Chen Rong have pulled few punches in their depiction of the hardships endured by a dedicated ophthalmologist (Pan Hong) struggling to combine a career with marriage and motherhood.

The film opens with Pan Hong felled by a heart attack after performing three delicate operations in one morning. As suspense builds as to whether she will survive the attack, the film starts flashing back. We see her falling in love with a young scientist (Da Shichang), the idyllic early years of their marriage soon blighted by Da Shichang's denunciation by the Red Guards. Now in his '40s, Da Shichang is still working on his thesis, slowed down by the black years of the Cultural Revolution and his having to spend precious study time cooking and caring for his children.

A tender love story, about a couple whose devotion to each other is severely tested, and at the same time a work of social criticism, "At Middle Age" is filled with revealing incidents. After 18 years of unstinting work of the most demanding kind--the film is virtually a documentary on eye surgery--Pan Hong has received no promotions and is paid less than a barber. As a result, the busybody party-bureaucrat wife of one of her patients wonders if she's qualified, not recognizing her as the same doctor who restored the sight of one of her husband's eyes years before.

To their credit, the film makers end on a most tentative note, despite the suggestion that things will get better for those of Pan Hong's generation. Near the end of this highly effective film (Times-rated Mature for adult themes), one of Pan Hong's closest friends and colleagues emigrates to Canada with her husband, who views China's future with uncertainty. There may be an obligatory feeling to the friend's last-minute emotional outburst at leaving the country she says she will always love. But leave she does.

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