A pregnant peasant woman seeks redress from the Chinese bureaucracy after the village chief kicks her husband in the groin in this comedy of justice. As she is frustrated by each level of ... See full summary »
A woman married to the brutal and infertile owner of a dye mill in rural China conceives a boy with her husband's nephew but is forced to raise her son as her husband's heir without ... See full summary »
In 1930s China a young woman is sent by her father to marry the leprous owner of a winery. In the nearby red sorghum fields she falls for one of his servants. When the master dies she finds... See full summary »
In a remote mountain village, the teacher must leave for a month, and the mayor can find only a 13-year old girl, Wei Minzhi, to substitute. The teacher leaves one stick of chalk for each ... See full summary »
During China's Tang dynasty the emperor has taken the princess of a neighboring province as wife. She has borne him two sons and raised his eldest. Now his control over his dominion is complete, including the royal family itself.
Zhao is an aging bachelor who hasn't been lucky in love. Thinking he has finally met the woman of his dreams, Zhao leads her to believe he is wealthy and agrees to a wedding far beyond his ... See full summary »
China in the 1920's. After her father's death, nineteen year old Songlian is forced to marry Chen Zuoqian, the lord of a powerful family. Fifty year old Chen has already three wives, each of them living in separate houses within the great castle. The competition between the wives is tough, as their master's attention carries power, status and privilege. Each night Chen must decide with which wife to spend the night and a red lantern is lit in front of the house of his choice. And each wife schemes and plots to make sure it's hers. However, things get out of hand... Written by
Mattias Pettersson <email@example.com>
I had a good day, so I selected this film. I have several films that I reserve for good days because I know they will reward. Its a sort of celebration that will send me into rich dreams, annotating my life.
This has two known qualities that you, dear reader, can expect without knowing anything about the film itself.
First, you will know that this is a woman directed by someone deeply in love with her. This doesn't always produce great films, but when the director is inherently cinematic, it often evokes something deep in the viewer. There is nothing in the world like looking on the face the person you are centered on. A million subtle decisions are made in each scene, summing to an effect that cannot be missed. If this had poor narrative qualities (and some of their films did) it would still have this quality of seeing into a soulmate deeply enough to be able to animate the skin.
Its quite interesting when you consider the woman. If you see her outside of film, or in films made by ordinary eyes, she is quite ordinary. She has an atypical Chinese body: busty and widehipped. She is poised but doesn't have the neck or cheekboned face of other Asian women. Only under this man's eye is she a goddess. You can see this in the very first shot.
The second thing you can count on is the architectural anchoring of the thing. This man knows how to use space. He uses it in the cinematic narrative, for example, if you replay the shots where the house of death is shown, and then the last encounter with it... And if you understand why the decisions about handling distance and surfaces were made they way they were, you will have entered a zone where from now on you will not be able to reason without reasoning with place.
But there are other handlings of space: As with some of his other films, the building is a character. Its the noir narrator who sets the rules often arbitrary under which all characters are bound to operate, and which drives the narrative. Its a particularly western notion, this, and has gotten our hero in trouble, even banned. This part is following Welles and Kubrick.
But he goes further than either of them with this notion that the light both has agency of its own (it selects which of the four wives gets a foot massage and sex) and is a part of the fabric of the buildings. The redness changes the spaces it occupies, bringing intrigue with the sex, desire for several things. Its quite layered, what is going on. These lanterns are the real master; in fact the person who inhabits the master's body is hardly even there. We never see his face.
Because of the extensive use of hard planes and selfish light, there aren't many fabric effects here, as we'll see elsewhere.
I am tempted to designate this as one of my two allowed "must see before you die" films of 1991. But I'm in too good a mood to make such a serious decision.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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