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Yellow Earth (1984)

Huang tu di (original title)
| Drama, Music | 1988 (USA)
'Yellow Earth' focuses on the story of a communist soldier who is sent to the countryside to collect folk songs for the Communist Revolution. There he stays with a peasant family and learns... See full summary »

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5 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

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...
Gu Quing (as Xueyin Wang)
Bai Xue ...
Cuiqiao
Quiang Liu ...
Hanhan
Tuo Tan ...
The father
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Storyline

'Yellow Earth' focuses on the story of a communist soldier who is sent to the countryside to collect folk songs for the Communist Revolution. There he stays with a peasant family and learns that the happy songs he was sent to collect do not exist; the songs he finds are about hardship and suffering. He returns to the army, but promises to come back for the young girl, Cuiqiao, who has been spell-bound by his talk of the freedom women have under communist rule and who wants to join the Communist Army. Written by Ronald Aiken <aikenrd@netcom.com>

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Drama | Music

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1988 (USA)  »

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Yellow Earth  »

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Did You Know?

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No. 4 in the Hong Kong Film Awards' List of The Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures See more »

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Featured in A Story of Children and Film (2013) See more »

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User Reviews

Speaks a universal language
26 May 2003 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

Yellow Earth by Chen Kai-ge (Farewell My Concubine, Life on a String) was the first film of the so-called fifth generation of filmmakers who introduced a new aesthetic and social awareness to Chinese cinema. It is set just before World War II in Shaanxi province in Northern China near the Yellow River, an area referred to as gian shan wan he (thousands of hills and ten folds more gullies). Based on Ke Lai's novel, "Echo in the Deep Valley", the film shows the struggle of the peasants in the area known for its unyielding harshness and the folk traditions they drew on to express their anguish. As the film begins, cinematographer Zhang Yimou creates a feeling of desolation with panoramic shots of the vast landscape as a soldier from the Communist Eighth Route Army, Gu Qing (Wang Xueyin), walks over the barren hills to a small village. He says he is there to collect folk songs for the army to use so that "the people will know why they are suffering, why their women are beaten, and why they should rise up".

Comrade Gu stays with a poor family that includes 47-year old widowed father (Tan Tuo), his 13-year old daughter Cuiqiao (Xue Bai), and almost mute son Hanhan (Liu Quiang). Rather than relying on traditional narrative to convey the film's message, Kai ge uses long static shots and songs of the people to express mood and tone. The father has become embittered with his life of constant deprivation and sings "Life is hard for seasonal workers. They are hired in January, dismissed in October". Conditions are tough and the farmers pray for rain to alleviate the drought but there is no rain. At a wedding, the serving of wooden fish figures covered with sauce underscores the lack of adequate food. The film also dramatizes the sorry condition of women, showing how they had to carry heavy buckets of water on their backs for miles, and how they were forced into arranged marriages at a very young age.

Gu is seemingly confident of the fight he is waging. He lets the family know that in the South, there are no longer any arranged marriages and tells Cuiqiao about women who cut their hair, fight against the Japanese, and can read and write. She hears about her older sister's unhappy marriage and does not want to endure the same fate. "Of all us poor folk," she sings, "girls are the saddest." Cuiqiao is infatuated with Gu and wants to leave home and join the Army 200 miles away in Yanan. She knows that if she stays she will be forced to marry an older man in an arranged ceremony. When Gu leaves to return to camp, he promises to return in April. Promises alone, however, cannot change Cuiqiao's growing feeling of entrapment or the terrible consequences that follow. In its heartbreaking portrayal of people caught in lives of "quiet desperation" that even Communist ideas or marching songs cannot redeem, Yellow Earth speaks a universal language.


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