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Intellectual's Tale
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At Middle Age

Director: Wang Qiming, Sun Yu (1982)


The ending of the ten-year-long "cultural revolution" in 1976 marked the start of a "new historical period" for Chinese film-making. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, quite a few good quality feature films were produced. Among them was At Middle Age (1982).


Adapted from female writer Shen Rong's novel of the same name, the film records the difficulties experienced by Lu Wenting, a woman oculist in her early 40s, by highlighting the problems faced by professionals and intellectuals in China over the years, especially during the "cultural revolution."


Lu, the heroine, is regarded as a typical Chinese intellectual in the 1950s and 1960s. She is both traditional and modern. She loves her work and devotes all to her duty. She loves her husband and their two children but has no time to look after them. Her husband, a technician in a research institute, has to undertake all the housework. One day when Lu is doing an operation, she is told that her daughter is running a fever. Tears in her eyes, she continues her operation and begs the kindergarten teacher to send her daughter to hospital.


Chinese intellectuals used to be classified as "bourgeois" and they were ordered to "wash their brains" by learning from workers, peasants and soldiers. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was no such "perfect" intellectual like Lu in Chinese films or other art forms. For the first time, At Middle Age boldly glorified intellectuals and vividly describes their desires, pursuits and dilemmas.


Thanks to the peaceful atmosphere in the early 1980s, At Middle Age was finally produced and created a sensation nationwide. In 1983, the film was honored as the best feature film at the Third Golden Rooster Film Awards and the Sixth Hundred Flowers Film Awards. Pan Hong (playing Lu Wenting) was named the best actress.


Before the release of the film, people were already aware of the importance of valuing knowledge and intellectuals. After the film was shown, society paid more attention to the working and living conditions of middle-aged intellectuals, who were the "backbones" both in their departments and in their own homes, who worked tirelessly and neglected themselves.


At Middle Age with a combination of realism and romanticism praises the heroine's noble spirit of devotion and profound love for her family, friends and motherland. The film also discusses things universal such as life, death, dignity, human nature and human interest. The shooting style is lyrical; the performance is natural; the details are true and believable. That is why the movie has moved so many audiences to tears.


(China Daily July 7, 2006)

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