To Live to Sing - IFFAM - 5th International Film Festival and Awards ‧ Macao

To Live to Sing
Mainland China, France | 2019 | 116’ | DCP | Colour | Chinese | Group: B
Director: Johnny Ma

2019/12/08 20:45 Macao Old Court Building

Programmer’s Note

Poised between modernisation – with its thunderous, symbolic demolition of buildings – and the preservation of long treasured traditions, Johnny Ma’s second feature is a touching, tender film on the fading world of Chinese Opera and its endangered cultural legacy. Inspired by a documentary about a Sichuan Opera troupe, whose existence is threatened by dwindling audiences and urban redevelopment, the film keeps its cinematic approach close to the recording of real life and employs real opera performers to play fictionalized versions of themselves. While we roam the backstage of rundown theatres, listen to the notes of beautifully sung ancient stories, and gaze at lavishly colourful costumes, we experience the pain and threat of an imminent end – as sculpted in the powerful performances of Zhao Li and Dan Dan. And, guided to ever surprising discoveries by the magic of a god of opera, we wonder what will remain after this enchanted world is gone. Only then does Ma reveal that what we are watching might actually be a brand new, never before performed, Chinese Opera.

– Giovanna Fulvi


Zhao Li is the manager of a small Sichuan Opera troupe, living and performing together in a rundown theatre located in the outskirts of Chengdu, China. When she receives the notice of demolition for the theatre, Zhao Li hides the news from everyone else, fearing that this could spell the end of her opera troupe: besides the physical demolition of their space, it’s the life of her ‘family’ that is at stake. As she struggles to search for a new theatre for them to both sing and live in, the opera and its fantastic characters slowly begin to seep into her real world.


Johnny Ma

Born as Ma Nan in Shanghai, China, Johnny first immigrated to Toronto, Canada, at the age of ten. Johnny graduated from the film program at Columbia University and was a fellow at the Sundance Institute Screenwriting and Directing Lab in 2014. In 2012, Ma moved back to China to make his 20 minute thesis film A Grand Canal, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Ma’s feature debut Old Stone world premiered at the Berlinale in 2016. It was awarded the Best Canadian First Feature Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and Best First Feature at the Canadian Screen Awards. The film was nominated in five other categories, including Best Film. To Live To Sing had its world premiere in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in May this year.

Cast & Crew

Director Johnny Ma

Scriptwriter(s) Johnny Ma

Producer(s) Vincent Wang

Cinematographer Matthias Delvaux

Production Designer

Editor Ana Godoy

Music Jongho You

Costumes Designer Adam Lim

Cast Zhao Xiaoli, Gan Guidan,Yan Xihu

Production Companies House on Fire Productions, Image X Production


World Sales Films Boutique

New Chinese Cinema