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|Index||97 reviews in total|
Good movies sweep you away in exotic and convincing landscapes you've never
seen or conceived of before. The best movies create new rules to go with
this new universe and integrate the two with an internal logic which opens
doors to corridors of perception and possibility in your own mind. RAISE
THE RED LANTERN is one of the latter for me. It's one of the best foreign
films I think I'll probably ever see.
As an American with very little background in 1920s China, I was immediately immersed in the totally new setting. The devious characters and surprisingly slippery plot soon similarly captured my imagination. Almost entirely a one-set production, RAISE THE RED LANTERN's claustrophobia is appropriate to the similarly stifled life of the protagonist. The characterizations of the four mistress rivals are all fascinating and disarming; none of these women are quite what they appear to be, but they are all consistent. Fascinating to watch, the strange camraderie between the four rivals for their master's affections is a testament to their isolation and loneliness, which their master seems to rely on. Obviously the social politics of marriage and the sexes aren't very different anywhere in the world, though some of the Chinese customs might appear to be.
I don't want to spoil any of the surprises so I'll close by saying that this film is accessible for anyone. Although it does have the seeming liabilities of being a costumed period piece, subtitled and ostensibly a chick flick given it's clearly female-skewed POV, this is still surprisingly mainstream, especially if you have any interest in a culture outside your own. Even if you're not interested in broadening your horizons, I suspect it will be of value for the light it sheds on the way women think. Deeply moving and thought-provoking, RAISE THE RED LANTERN is an eye-opener. It doesn't always make you feel warm inside, but you will feel something, and it will be real. 10 / 10.
I will be thinking about this movie for a long time. It is one of the
visually most beautiful movies I have ever seen. The acting and plot
and dialogue are all top notch. I'm talking myself into giving it
The protagonist genuinely develops as the film progresses and your views on each of the main characters continually shifts. One of the most powerful elements is that you do feel pity for the protagonist even after her petulant and vindictive behavior.
The title of the movie appeared very odd to me. Probably the most apt title of any film as the weary rituals of the ancient household form more and more meaning. The symbolism of raising the red lantern is the soul of the picture. It represents the total power of the polygamist over his harem.
Spoiler: One of the most interesting displays of this dichotomy between the power of the men and women that the man is having an affair. But when discovered nothing happens. He is already legitimately sleeping with 4 women. When wife number three is caught the penalty is death. I also loved the little power the women enjoyed: whomever has the lantern may set the menu. Our protagonist decides that what is happening is beneath humanity and would rather die than be part of it.
The film feels slow burning but the intensity builds and builds as layers are added to the plot and each character. For a fan of foreign cinema: unmissable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Raise the Red Lantern is the third film by acclaimed Chinese film
director Yimou Zhang, who's films tend to revolve around the idea of
the older rich man with the beautiful young wife.
After her father's death, Songlian's (Gong Li) stepmother cannot afford to continue to pay for her education at the university. As a result, Songlian reluctantly accepts an offer to become a concubine of a rich older man who already has three mistresses. When Songlian arrives as the 'Fourth Mistress' she is greeted differently by each of the mistresses. The First Mistress (Shuyuan Jin) is the old maid who is set in the ways and customs of the house. The Second Mistress (Cuifen Cao) is initially more friendly and accepting of Songlian than the others. The Third Mistress (Caifei He) is a youthful opera singer who, as a result of her jealousy, tries to make things difficult for Songlian.
The older rich man is simply known as Master, and we never get a good look at him. Despite this, his presence is always felt throughout the house and in the lives of the mistresses, who's lives consist of nothing beyond the walls of the house. Each night the Master visits one of the mistresses. Each day when the master returns from his journeys, the women are expected to wait outside of their houses to see who the Master has chosen to stay with that night. The chosen mistress gets a red lantern placed in front of her, and then red lanterns are hung and lit around the entry way to her house and inside her house.
Although the women are all taken care of, they are slaves in their homes. Forced to live by strict rules with nothing to do except bicker among themselves in an effort to get the Master to stay with them, to increase there chances of providing him with a male child. On the roof Songlian discovers a room that is locked, we learn that it was used to hang a couple of women who did not adjust well to the lifestyle, but we are told this happened many years ago.
As the film unfolds we see just how empty and lonely the mistresses lives must be. Not only do they not get along with each other, but Songlian even has trouble with her servant, who seems out to get her from the beginning. The lack of music in most scenes in the film echoes this idea of solitude, as do the dull gray walls of the house. Most of the color we see, other than the lanterns, is inside the houses of the mistresses. Meishan's (Third Mistress) is the most decorative with over-sized kabuki masks adorning the walls. Although the story takes place in one location, there are a lot of great shots in the film. There are also several shots where, instead of seeing the action, we are shown a doorway and we hear what is going on inside, we then see a reaction shot from someone outside, or someone coming out of the doorway. These scenes allow the sounds and reactions to show us what the camera will not. It is a technique that works well in this film.
Raise the Red Lantern speaks volumes about the injustices done to women in China, and how it is actually slavery for the mistresses, no matter how well the Master provides and cares for them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Can inevitable and hopeless sadness ever be adequately described?
Maybe, but not, I think, by amateur film enthusiasts or any but a few
professional critics, and only then if they can tame their professional
enthusiasms, can write well and know when to stop. That leaves out,
among us amateurs, nearly all of us. As for the professionals, I've
read only two or three commentaries by professional film critics that I
think do justice to Raise the Red Lantern. Partly, this is due to the
utterly foreign, cloistered culture we're observing. Partly, it's due
to the intense but withheld emotions and motivations we gradually
become aware of. Mainly, I think, it's due to the fact that deep
sadness simply can't be adequately described, and the more we try, the
less we convey.
Songlian (Gong Li), a 19-year-old student in 1920 China, must leave college when her father dies. Her stepmother arranges for her to marry a rich man as a fourth "wife." From then, Songlian's life, everything, depends on the attention she will receive from this man we scarcely see. The first mistress is middle-aged, serene and cool. The second is attractive and appears sympathetic and friendly. The third is young, beautiful and intensely jealous that Songlian may replace her as the most favored by Master Chen. Each has a maid. The servants reflect the attitudes of those they serve, but above all else, they reflect their roles in the Master's house. Again and again we return to an overhead shot that shows us where the universe begins and ends for Songlian...a stone courtyard with stone buildings on either side and the entrance at the end of the courtyard leading up low stairs to where Songlian now will live. When the Master intends to visit one of the wives for the night, it is the custom that the servants ceremoniously raise red lanterns outside the apartment of the favored wife.
And this is all that their lives...and now, Songlian's life...consists of. There is no outside world, only their duty to serve the Master and to follow the customs of the Chen family, which goes back generations. If the red lantern is raised frequently outside Songlian's doorway, a servant tells her, she will soon be running the establishment. The other wives know this. Songlian is educated, sullen and resentful. She may realize that she must establish herself in the favor of the Master and find her place in the world of the wives, but we realize she may not have the guile needed. The intensity of establishing and maintaining "place" means resentments and betrayals. There can be no friendships. Songlian does not play this game well. Songlian's life eventually becomes as desolate as the cold snow that drifts down into the courtyard.
Raise the Red Lantern is a gorgeous movie, as are most of Yimou Zhang's films. The seasons change from spring to summer to fall and to winter. We keep returning to Songlian and to the view of the courtyard, but we also see out over what seems the endless tile roofs of the Master's mansion. High on the roof is a small stone shed that is kept locked and which, it is whispered, had something to do with a former wife.
At first the stone exteriors seem small and the interiors seem to go on and on. We see Songlian dressed lavishly to await the Master's visits. We see ornate furniture, wall scrolls, braziers against the chill and the red lanterns. We seldom see tears. Raise the Red Lantern is no tragedy, but it is a kind of slow-playing, hopeless melodrama. It is a reserved world where for these four women and their servants, everything depends on the Master. For Songlian, everything depends on her willingness to bend completely to this life from which she cannot leave, and to accept that there can be no relief from the need to scheme and plot to maintain a position against the other wives. To befriend can lead to betrayal. To sympathize can lead to rejection. To let slip a secret can lead to death. The customs of the ancient Chen family must be honored and followed, and can be cruel. To serve the Master whenever he wishes, with skill and charm, and to bear him a son, is what life has become, and there is no escape. The Master's life goes on. Our last view of Songlian is in the courtyard, in winter, wandering.
Anyone who reads this should shake their head and wonder what all the fuss is about. Get the movie and watch it, then you try to describe it. You'll feel inadequate.
This movie was amazing. I can't even remember the first time I saw it, but I was about seven or eight. I scarcely understood the deeper complications of the story, but it moved me, even then, and even though it was in a language completely foreign to me. The tension between the wives is always intriguing, and I enjoy watching it every time. Seriously, if a seven-year-old remembered the name of a foreign, subtitled film for more than a decade, and STILL enjoyed it when she saw it later, I think most people would get at least a smidgen of enjoyment from this movie. (note: this movie is not necessarily appropriate for seven-year-old's. watch it, then use your best judgment.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Set in 1920s China, Raise the Red Lantern begins with a close-up of
Songlian's face. Harassed by her stepmother to get married for over
three days, Songlian finally consents. When asked whom will she marry,
Songlian answers that she will marry a rich man. The stepmother then
intones that if she marries a rich man then she will be nothing more
than a concubine. Songlian answers that it matters little.
Dressed in her university clothes, Songlian makes her way to the family compound of the Chen family where she is installed as the Fourth Mistress. Only nineteen-years-old, Songlian looks to be several years, by two, three, or four decades, younger than the first mistress. Who Songlian states must be one hundred years old. The Third Mistress, a former opera singer, is quite aloof and avoids making contact with Songlian. The only mistress Songlian seems to be able to get along with is the Second Mistress, a pleasant faced older woman.
Within the environs of the family compound there are a number of rules. Besides small things like the specific table where the family sits for meals and pregnancy rituals, several red lanterns illuminate the Mistress's rooms where the Master will sleep the night and the Mistress of said rooms will receive a foot massage given by the skillful Auntie Cao. While the lanterns and foots massages seem inconsequential, one of the mistresses informs Songlian that if one goes without a foot massages for three day, i.e. the Master does not pay her a visit, the servants begin treating her differently. Also, the owner of the room where the lanterns were illuminated the night before can also chose specified meals.
It is within this environment that Songlian has come to live. Seemingly hated by the Third Mistress and even her own maidservant Yan'er, Songlian, who was attending a University until her father died, finds herself tangled in a system of tradition where backstabbing is the rule of the game. However, Songlian is not scared to attack back even at the risk of the safety of others.
Played by the stunning Gong Li, Songlian comes off as a strong, intelligent young woman who is unfortunately ensnared in a less than ideal situation. While living in luxury, one can sense the boredom she must feel. Seemingly imprisoned in her rooms, Songlian is not even able to keep a flute, an heirloom of her father's, because Master Chen is worried that it was a gift from a boy at Songlian's university.
Like other Zhang Yimou films, Raise the Red Lantern is a visual delight. Set entirely within the environs of the Chen compound, one can see a cinematic glimpse into the lives of the Chinese privileged during the 1920s. While quite different than the Su Tong novella on which it was based, there were no red lanterns and the First Mistress's son had a special friend, Raise the Red Lantern is quite an experience that was filmed during the height of the Zhang Yimou/Gong Li collaboration.
Quite a contrast to his later films, here, Zhang Yimou orchestrates a
quiet toned but extremely deadly film. There is not a speck of the
glamour from films like House of Flying Daggers, and Hero. It was the
success of this which probably earned him the respect and funding for
those big budget films. Raise the Red Lantern, has a Kurosawa quality
to it; very slow, very dramatic and very thought provoking.
Set around the beginning of the 20th century, The film is about the conflict between four concubines in the massive household of a Chinese lord. Every night he chooses to sleep with a different one. Red lanterns are lit and hung outside the room of whichever he chooses. The story is told from Gong Li's perspective - she has is the latest concubine. The tension is all about the competition among the women for the only power they can have - access to the lord.
Raise the Red Lantern, has a very barren feeling, and with so many wide establishing shots, this truly does resemble a Kurosawa design. The story rumbles with a grim ambiance and hardly ever escalates to an overly-dramatic scale. Zhang deliberately keeps things fairly distant and uncertain, and concludes the story on a dramatic and disturbing note. Such qualities of storytelling are rare, making Raise the Red Lantern a great film to see.
After her father's death, Songlian is forced into a marriage at the young age of 19 to a master who already has three other wives. As Songlian moves into the master's mansion, there is a sense of jealousy along with conflict within her and the other three wives. The competition for the master's attention becomes tough as Songlian will soon find out. Songlian never seems to be happy throughout the whole film. I don't think I've ever recalled a scene where she even smiled other than the time she got drunk. She does not even wear a wedding dress on the day of her wedding with the master. All she wears is a school uniform. By her wearing this outfit, the audience can get a feeling that Songlian is unhappy about her marriage with the master. Hoping to get the master's attention back after cutting the second wife's ear, Songlian made a statement claiming that she is pregnant. The pregnancy becomes false when Yan'er discovers blood on the white pants of Songlian meaning that she had her period and could not have been pregnant. Things are just going to get worst from there on. Ever since Songlian moved into the mansion, everything bad has been going on. This film revolves around a 19-year-old college student forced into a marriage. It has a great storyline to it along with the costumes to abstract the backgrounds. The director's camera angles were great in this. This is one of the best Chinese films I've seen. I would give this film a rating of 8 out of 10 and highly recommend people to go and watch it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Raise the Red Lantern directed by Zhang Yimou is the perfect testament
to the harsh realities women had to face during the 1920's in China.
Zhang Yimou offers a glimpse into the time period of concubines and
shows the story of our main protagonist, Songlian. Songlian is first
portrayed as an independent young woman who has more than enough
education women need during the 20's in China. Zhang Yimou develops the
story of Songlian to show that no concubine can survive being
independent without facing the consequences. Songlian is put through
many obstacles and learns that obedience is number one in the concubine
lifestyle after witnessing the execution of the third wife. Raise the
Red Lantern shows the different side of being a concubine in China,
which is the life of loneliness and distance from the outside world
that concubines must lead.
Zhang Yimou's direction in Raise the Red Lantern is the true star of the movie. Yimou's constant use of long shots is employed to convey the sense that everything is kept secret in this lifestyle. Yimou's use of color to make the scenery gray is used to show that this is a mundane lifestyle and that there is no getting out. The director's strongest message during the movie was with the third wife when the fourth wife came to watch her sing. The beautiful red kimono against the gray backdrop of the houses showed that these concubines do have souls and personalities outside of their duties as concubines, but as soon as the third wife saw Songlian, she quickly took off the red kimono showing that she must now obey and hide her true self. Yimou accomplished his task of showing the oppressive lives that these women must live and through the use of Songlian he showed that there is no way out.
The only flaw in Raise the Red Lantern was the acting. Songlian did not convey much feeling and as the protagonist this was a mistake. The third and second wives were extremely good in playing their parts and showed their secret attempts to keep a hold of their true personalities. Although the acting was not much to rave about, Zhang Yimou created a beautiful film and in-depth look into the lackluster lives of concubines.
Zhang Yimou's "Raise the Red Lantern" is an extraordinary achievement. Like
Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" alerting the cinematic world to the rising of the
French New Wave, Yimou's film serves as fair warning to all that the best
films in the world are now coming out of Asia.
No, I'm not overstating it.
In 1920s China, 19-year-old Songlian (Gong Li) is sent to the home of a feudal nobleman to become his fourth wife. While the servants treat her as a princess, it doesn't take Songlian long to realize that she is trapped in a gilded cage and that her life, and the lives of all around her, now revolve around the whims of one very selfish man.
Songlian dreams of what her life could have been had she been allowed to finish her education. The third wife dreams of what her life could have been had marriage not ended her opera career. The second wife dreams of what her life could have been had she been able to give the Master a son. And the female servants dream of how wonderful life must be to live as one of the Master's wives.
Yimou films the story with an astonishing beauty, giving even a scene of deadly violence (mercifully hidden from the camera) a gorgeous look. Yimou is also very aware of his leading actress's incredible beauty and he coaxes more expressions from Gong Li's face than it would seem one person is capable of making.
If you have any hesitations about viewing a subtitled film, put them aside and allow yourself to be taken on one of the most wonderful cinematic journeys you will ever travel.
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