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"Raise the Red Lantern" is not the first Chinese film I have seen, but
I think it certainly ranks in the highest echelons of foreign films.
The depth - and psychological terror - of the film makes it a classic
in my opinion.
Songlian - a university student 1920's China - is thrown into a marriage with "the master," a polygamist who already has three wives. The competition for the master's attention (and the privileges that come with it) are the sole focus of the wives. Songlian is the only wife that has been educated... and has known what is to be "free." In the constricted, feudal environment of the Master's palatial house, Zhang Yimou shows Songlian's physical and psychological imprisonment in a "gilded cage."
The most horrific thing about this movie is the fact that, in 20s era China, something like this could conceivably happen. The way Zhang Yimou gradually unwinds the story, with sumptuous colors and the incredibly believable acting of Gong Li and the rest of the cast, is beautiful and has a depth that most Hollywood movies lack.
This film is absolutely gorgeous. Its not necessarily the type of movie I
would have rented on my own though, I was actually forced to watch it in
english class in 10th grade. A few years later, I saw it at Blockbuster,
rented it, and saw exactly why it was a great movie, and its still in the
top 5 of my favorite movies.
Set in 1920's China, the story is about Songlian, a 19 year old university student who decides to marry a rich, older man after the death of her father. She moves into his large "court" and becomes his Fourth Mistress. She has a servant named Yan'er, who is in love with the Master, and is also the "evil doer" of someone of who is trying to sabotage the appearance of Songlian. When the Master decides that he would like to spend the night with one of his 4 mistresses, each one is called to a long hall, and a red lantern is placed in front of them, and then lanterns are hung, lit, and the mistress may have anything she desires for dinner, and gets to spend the night with the Master. This does not suit Songlian very well. We see that she has some sort of feeling for the Master, but after the First Sister's (they refer to each other as sisters) son, Feipu, comes along, she seems to lose interest in the Master.
Songlian befriends Meishan, the Third Sister (a former opera singer) and sees just how far deceit can go in this "happy household." I dont want to give anything away for first time viewers because the ending is a shocker. I give this movie a 9 out of 10 mainly because there are a few slow parts in the beginning. I wouldnt classify this film as being artsy, but it is definately beautiful and was written very well. This deserved its Oscar Nod back in 1991.
Zhang Yimou's film "Da hong deng long gao gao gua" (1991) has become
one of my few safehavens: a film I retreat to when I return from my
film adventures and long for refreshment.
What I like the most is how this is shot, that is, With such discipline: the shots are highly symmetrical, either horizontally or in depth, and often than not in depth. It's amazing, and shows what three-dimensional filmmaking really is all about. I talk of discipline, since they could have shot each scene the ordinary way, going far closer than they do, but instead they step back and let the space of the place suck you in. This creates a wonderful sense of loneliness in the context of the film, and the closeups then have added power.
Speaking of which, this has somewhat ousted another architecturally brilliant film from the same year (1991), just as radical if not more in its use of space, but a lot tougher to sit through.
The same with sound: the contrapuntal dance of sounds and silence, just like that of long shots and closeups, beautifully emphasizes the few important motifs that the soundscape offers us.
But the riches of the film far transcend only the technical, no matter how reinvigorating and masterful they be. Songlian's marriage, as demonstrated by the first scene, is actually an act of rebellion towards her mother and the values her mother represents. Dramaturgically there is an unexpected symmetry there, since when she gets to the house, she finds that all the women do just that, rebel and play the game with far greater ruthlessness than her.
Indeed, the film plays out just like a game of light. The lanterns are lit, they change houses, with it all the perceived authorial power in the game (I think this aspect is occasionally misinterpreted as melodrama). But it wouldn't have worked without Gong Li, who is lovable, beautiful and subtle enough so that in the end we start reading our own projections and assumption on her face.
As far as I know, there isn't a decent Blu-ray of the film in existence. I own a French Blu-ray, which is unfortunately not of a very good quality, and might pose problems for people who don't know French (or Mandarin!), since it's the only subtitle option available.
Raise the Red Lantern is one of the best Chinese movies I have seen.
The acting is so realistic, the time and location is historic and
exotic, and the colors and music is just luscious. On top of that is
the story line which is tragic yet beautiful.
This movie is the perfect depiction of competition and deception. Those who you think of as friends are actually your enemies. Those closest to you will betray you. Those that you cannot stand might as well be your closest allies. And in the end, are all the layers of deception and pointless competition really worth it?
I really recommend this film. The pace might be a bit slow, but it perfectly fits the mood of the movie and it gives you time to think about what happens next.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Raise the Red Lantern is the third Zhang Yimou film and his third
collaboration with Gong Li. And I liked it quite a bit unlike his
previous films - Red Sorghum and Ju Dou. The reasons were quite simple,
Raise the Red Lantern was better acted, had better characters and
Gong Li gives a great performance and it's easily one of the best performances in her acting career. The supporting cast is good, especially the actresses who played the other wives and her maid. This time there are no flat or overly melodramatic performances.
The story is very interesting and it offers a lot of interesting twists and turns. Sadly it takes nearly 40 to 50 minutes to really get going which does hurt the pacing a bit. The characters are fairly complex and their relationships are the driving force of the narrative. I really enjoyed the conversations between the characters and cutthroat attitude was something you really see don't in Hollywood films. The only drawback is the fact that Raise the Red Lantern is sometimes too soap-operish and melodramatic. It doesn't happen too often but can get slightly irritating.
The direction by Zhang Yimou is top notch. Like in his previous films, he creates great atmosphere and mood by mixing the beautiful visuals with music. The cinematography is excellent as always and makes the monotone setting more visually memorable and interesting.
Raise the Red Lantern is a really good film. It's easily one of his better films and it shows. The acting is great, Gong Li is fabulous and the story, while dark and downbeat, offers something different in the period drama genre. Highly recommended for foreign films fans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This beautifully made film ranks high among my list of favorite movies.
One reason is because of its film star, Li Gong, who I loved in Ju Dou,
Memoirs of a Geisha, and Curse of the Golden Flower. The second reason
is because of Director Yimou Zhang who directed Ju Dou, Hero, House of
the Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower, all films that
should be on your IMDb watchlist if you haven't seen them. The third
reason is the exquisite writing and plot. The film is about 19 year old
Songlian (Li Gong) whose family falls on hard times after the death of
her father. She marries into the wealthy Chen family and becomes the
fourth wife of Master Chen. The competition for his attention and
affection among the wives is fierce. This is because the Master decides
on a daily basis which wife he will spend the night with. Whomever he
chooses gets her lanterns lit and special treatment including a foot
massage, her choice of food at mealtime, and the most attention and
respect from the servants. The first wife is routinely passed over so
the other wives ignore her but the remaining wives hate each other and
resort to trickery and backstabbing. The unhealthy environment leads to
This film is one that will have you continuing to look at the screen five minutes after it has ended. The wonderfully rich colors shown in the movie are in sharp contrast to the dark, depressing life of Songlian who once dreamed of a happy life before being forced into marriage
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's no secret that Zhang Yimou directs some of the beautiful movies in
cinema history. His extensive and vivid use of colour is gorgeous. More
than 10 years before he directed his modern-classics, Hero and House of
Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern was there. The film has a simple
storyline, a restricted location and a great cinematography. Oh, and it
also employs beautiful use of colour. Sometimes I think Zhang Yimou is
a product of an explosion in a colour factory.
Raise the Red Lantern quite literally pits 4 women against each other and the film observes enviness, jealousy, hatred, anger, love & sorrow. Also, to some extend, Totalitarianism. Every woman wants to be the top mistress in front of the master and wants the red lanterns hung in front of their house. The 4th Mistress quickly catches the eye of her personal maid, Ya'ver, the 3rd Mistress & the 2nd Mistress. One thing leads to another and the 3rd Mistress ends up dead, the maid ends up dead, and the 4th Mistress goes insane, causing The Master to marry once more. Enter 5th Mistress, but thank goodness the film ends there, because another 2 hours would've been hectic. Not that I would've minded it, but enough is enough! I think the appropriate title should've been Personality Clash or This is how Women silently kill each other, or something like that.
The pacing of the film is good. The slow and smooth camera movements did the trick. Red Lantern also employs repetition and I think it was a good move. It kept reminding us of what we're watching and what the film's story is all about. Unlike Hero or House of Flying Daggers which were clearly story-driven, this film was more character-and-music driven. The heavy metal? background music was awesome and I think it perfectly matches the mood and characteristics of the film and the women, respectively.
From the performances, Gong-Li had the upper-hand, while He Caifi was just a rung below, but both were amazing in their characters. They both, out of all, portrayed the frustration, the anger, the hidden hatred, and then a sudden affection for each other, almost perfectly. The film was entirely on their shoulders and both handled the weight flawlessly!
My ending note will be: Not just a great film. A landmark film! It has characters which are divided in two: Either you end up hating them, or loving them. A quite-powerful film that demands a repeat!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film itself is quite perfect in most aspects. The story is a
replica of a feudal society family in old China. It tells a story of a
young student who is forced to drop out of university and marry a
wealthy business man due to poor economic reasons. What is worse, she
is the fourth wife.
The casting is also fabulous to include Gong Li and even the male protagonist who never reveals his face during the whole film is a very professional actor.
The description of atmosphere is another thing that is adding colors. It is very oppressive living in such a yard isolated with the outside world. The silence of the yard, the red lanterns which are strong in symbolism both escalate exquisiteness of the film.
The husband, the four wives and the servants living in the yard is a miniature of feudal society which is full of power, status, deceit and conspiracy.Songlian thinks she is educated and different from the the rest of family. Actually, she is not. The power of the surrounding environment is so overwhelming that she unconsciously turns into one member of them as she gradually gets used to the life there.
In the end, she becomes crazy for seeing the third wife killed; however, the story is unfinished with the coming of another prospective victim, the fifth wife.
The film Raise The Red Lantern is one of the most famous film of Yimou Zhang. It is a successful film. Under the rule of polygamy, the film narrated a tragic story. All the concubines live in a big house, the relationship between these concubines are not good, it bring a lot of strife openly and secretly. Song Lian is the main character of the film, the actress (Gong Li) made a perfect performance. The director Yimou Zhang used the simple scene and language to show viewers a shocking story, and also criticize the rotten old society. I think that the film have a lot of mentionable aspects.
First of all, the film is full of Chinese characteristics. In the film, the traditional thought (Confucianism) showed in some plots. The steward always mentioned that all of people should obey the old rules. All the four concubines wanted to have a son. In ancient China, man have important position in a family. All the women should be compliant and loyal to their husband, or they will be punished. The third concubine was hang because of her disloyalty. The whole messuage likes a society, all the people are influenced by old rules, the patriarchy is entrenched. Besides, the costume of the film is filled with traditional element, the messuage is also Chinese outdatedbuilding. The music of the film used a lot of blow and beat mode. In addition, the third concubine performs the Beijing opera, which is traditional Chinese culture.
Secondly, I want to say the character of the film and the stage set are well-designed. Especially the role of Song Lian, she is an undergraduate, so she has new ideas in that age. Because of that, in the film, Song Lian did not sit bridal sedan chair, took the luggage by herself, and did not like foot massage. However, as the time going, she became a depraved person. The design of this character highlight the feudal thought has huge influence in that period, even though the educated undergraduate also cannot escape its influence. In addition, the first wife is an old woman, the second concubine is a deceitful person, the third concubine is a singer of drama. These four women have different backgrounds and personalities, these arrangements enrich the storyline. What's more, there are many detailed design about stage set. The four women have different designs of room. The first wife is an old woman, so her boudoir is dark, the furniture is old, and the clothing is fuscous. The third concubine is a singer of Beijing opera, thus her room is full of dramatic element.
Thirdly, I think the film has ingenious narrative approach and good foreshadowing. Director made use of the four seasons (summer, autumn, winter, spring) to narrate a whole story. It is simple and clear, but it is quite impressive. The beginning of the film is the dialogue between Song Lian and stepmother, the last words of Song Lian said: "woman is just like that", and then there are two lines of tears on her face. This scene let audience know the film is about the tragedy of woman. It is also a good foreshadowing for the following story. Besides, the word conflict between Song Lian and Yan'er is also an important foreshadowing for the succedent things.
Fourthly, I think the use of long shot, close-up and music make the film more resultful. At the beginning of the film, there is a close-up on Song Lian for a few minutes. With the background of white window, the atmosphere has sense of loneliness and futureless. Director used a lot of long shot and close-up on red lantern, it work in concert with the title of film. In the film, master is a lightspot, as he never has full-face shot. Director through words embody the existence of master. Although we cannot see the face of master completely, the role of master fully reflect the patriarchy, he is a marblehearted people. This is a deliberate arrangement, it can serve as a foil to the dark of feudalism. In this film, a large amount of music is dramatic music. This can reflect the epitasis and the depressive atmosphere of the big house. The sound of foot massage is gripping, the singing of the Mei Shan (the third concubine) is bleak. The combination between lens shift and music make the character and atmosphere very dismal.
Finally, I feel the scene of the film is exquisite, it is cinematography. The red lantern plays an important role. When the servants kindle the lanterns, the whole surroundings are full of vitality. However, when the servants extinguish the red lanterns, the whole environment is hopeless and tenebrous. This contrast further highlights the theme of the film. In addition, the scene of the four seasons is true to nature. Especially in winter, the landscape is beautiful, it is like a perfect picture.
In a word, the film is well worth seeing. The story, the shoot, the costume, stage set and the music are all art. The film Raise The Red Lantern is a classic work.
It's pretty obvious that pre-revolutionary China treated its women pretty
bad, as indeed the rest of the world did. This is exemplified in "Raise
Red Lantern", one of the finest films to come out of China in living
It is the story of Songlian (the blindingly beautiful Gong Li), who was a
university student in 1920's China, but due to financial hard times is
to become the forth wife of a landed aristocrat.
Any idea of a sorority amongst the four women of the house is quickly dispelled. Each night, the master of the house chooses from his brides one to spend the night with by lighting red lanterns outside their door. With this comes status and privileges, such Songlian is rapidly reduced to the infighting and scheming (including voodoo)of the other wives to gain his affections. The real coup d'etat for any wife, however, would be to give the master a son.
This almost medieval attitude to marriage and power balances is indeed fascinating, which allows for a riveting film from Zhang Yimou. In particular, the images of the film are spectacular. Gong Li's stunning face and the sensuous color palette of the castle are expertly captured, but that is not to deny the artistic success of the film. Yimou has fashioned a tale of the strengths and flaws of women, the choices they face, and what they have been forced to endure. Its impressive that a man made this film (none of that Germaine Greer bias crap).
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