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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.
I find the front of the film a tad too slow but perhaps thats the mood and
foundation on which Zhang Yi Mou wants the rest of the film needs to be
built on. Bleakness is used as a building block, reflected both in the
cinematography (use of colour and camera angles) and pacing of the plot in
the frontal section of the film (slow and lengthy). With that, the
can feel the atmostphere and emotion of the situation in the film. It
orientates the audience about the family, the traditions and lifestyle as
well as the underlying conflicts.
Soon enough, the plot starts to heighten, showing more conflict between the mistresses, with the old master and with the servants. The plot flows amazingly well, using the different characters to drive situations and thrust the story forward.
The twists in the plot adds dimension to the story and make you jump from hate, to like, to sympathy for the characters, bringing on a journey; almost toying with your feelings. The finger is pointed at you when you switch from siding one mistress to the other and from fourth mistress to Yan Er.
The use of colour is motivated. It brings out the atmostphere in the film, portraying sadness and entrapment that the main character feels. Unlike in similar chinese films where colour is plainly used to bring out the richness, wealth and grandeur of the chinese people and thier culture (The Last Emperor), this film portrays normal everyday scenes in cold bleak colour but uses colour at key points in the plot to convey a message as to how the feeling is at that time. Even when colour is used, it is not to portray warmth but used to convey darkness and haunt.
The story ends proving that nothing has changed, providing a powerful blow that contributes to the sorrow of the story.
"Raise the Red Lantern," the story of a college-educated young woman who
becomes the fourth wife to a wealthy man in imperial China, made an
indelible impression on me when I first saw it in the theater. It gets off
to something of a slow start (the first 20 minutes or so), but then the
tension begins to build and the film becomes a gripping psychological drama.
One thing I found appealing about "Red Lantern" is that while the film
portrays a brutally patriarchal system in which women are clearly very
oppressed and dependent on their lord and master for everything, it does not
idealize the women or turn them into doe-eyed, sweet, saintly victims. The
wives and concubines are resourceful, smart, competitive, and very
determined to make the best of their situation... in any way they can. They
can even be cruel and downright evil. Forget the cliche that men are
interested in power and women are interested in love. These women are
definitely interested in power and status -- though, of course, the only way
they can obtain it is by winning the husband's favor. Yet their power
struggles are just as ruthless as anything that happens in the "male" world
of politics, business, or war, and just as fascinating to
The exquisitely lovely Gong Li is superb as the tragic heroine, Songlian. Excellent performances, too, by the other women. Visually, the film is strikingly beautiful; the camera lovingly caresses every detail of the interiors, while the severity of the outdoor in winter occasionally provides a stark contrast to the luxury of the indoors. Sometimes the visuals are almost too lush, yet the style does not detract from the substance.
A must-see, for anyone with a grown-up attention span.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this only once when I was a young woman. I found it riveting and
I am not going to try to repeat what everyone else said, but I want to say something else.
When I reflected on the movie, I thought about the order of the marriages. The first wife was the master's same age. She must have been a beautiful local girl at them time of her wedding, but nothing "special". Now she is an old woman resigned to eternally live in the shadows. She tries to make the best of her situation. She has no illusions about how things are, unlike her replacement sisters who are still vying for "love" from the master. Wife #1 seems aloof, but she knows the rules and she bids her time, like a cat. When she gets her chance to strike, she does not hesitate to kill.
The second wife was younger, a cute, chubby face, and always laughing. She must have been a young, fun, exciting diversion from the first wife when he married her. But eventually, he got bored with her and moved on.
The next wife was a famous opera singer. The master must have grown rich by the time he married her; and she was glamorous, exotic, sought after and talented. Who wouldn't want to marry a star? He must have convinced her that since she was marrying a rich man, and she was so admired, that he would "love" her forever. Then he married her and put his new jewel in a box, only to be played with when he felt like it.
Now comes our protagonist: very young, very beautiful and educated. She is not in love, but only in it for the financial reasons room and board. Her stepmother took her dreams of an independent life and turned her into a whore. The master said something about an "educated woman being different". Apparently, with each wife, he was always looking for something new and different. But the bottom line is this: she is just another sex object for him. I remember first wife said, "How old are you? 19? Such sins". She knows her husband is just a selfish, sex-crazed, dirty old man.
And then there is the slave girl: why bother MARRYING her when . . . .
At the end of the movie: Wife #5: a child. Now I know why #1 said, "Such sins". How will this child survive in this deadly house? I recommended this movie.
Raise the Red Lantern is a film directed by Zhang Yimou which is an
adaptation of the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong. The film deals
with a number of issues and handles them with meticulous craftsmanship.
It is a masterpiece in every aspects ranging from storyline to
technical sophistry. This review will be focused on various necessary
aspects of the film but there will be no commentary over it as an
adaptation. The discussion will cover its plot, characters, technical
elements, sound and theme.
The setting of the film is 1920s China. Songlian (Gong Li) is an educated girl who had to marry a rich feudal patriarch because of her mother's will when her father dies. She therefore becomes the fourth mistress of the family that maintains traditions and its orthodoxy rigorously. She finds herself within a suffocating confinement. Her sole focus is narrowed down to get the attention of the master likewise the other "sisters". Interestingly; along with physical satisfaction, the wives' charm in the house seems to rest on getting the foot massage which is given to the particular wife with whom the master will be 'spending' his night. Songlian is a quick learner who starts tricking and fooling other "sisters" just like the way they do. She builds a good relationship with the second wife (Cao Cuifen) and does not quiet get along with the third one. With a number of twisting discoveries, Songlian keeps on gaming until she uncovers something grave in a state of drunkenness in her 20th birthday.
The character of Songlian is the most craftily characterized one in the film. While other characters, especially second and third wives are seen to be only fussily engaged in grabbing the master's attention, Songlian projects an amazing amount of sentimentality, sensibility, anger and calculability. Songlian's maid is also an important character who is characterized to a credible degree. Within a confinement of rules, traditions and orthodoxy; Songlian and her maid have expressions that are praiseworthy. The master and First wife's son Feipu plays a precise but significant role. Other characters serve up to their demand of the plot. This is one of the very few films where there are no unnecessary characters. Moreover, the acting is superb.
The film has brilliant editing and incredibly meticulous cinematography. Kudos must be given to the cinematographer Yang Lun and Zhao Fei. The cinematography is so amazingly mathematical that it turns out to be a work of art. The precision reminds of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and some of its legendary cinematography. Editing is very smooth and the superimposition in the last sequence are also uncannily perfect. The screenplay deserves a bow. It's literally hard to find any flaws in the technical sector of the film.
The film uses very little sound. The songs of the "Third Mistress" are enchanting. The introductory music which is repeated several times in the film is very purposive and upholds the stereotypical fact that it is a Chinese film.
The film deals with a number of themes. There is something graver than mere sentimentality because it must not be forgotten that this film was banned by the Chinese Government. The film has all the dramatic themes necessary to make a film attractive. But the main theme of the film serves as a critique of Confucianism that means it is a satire of the theory of a good family. Songlian's condition by the end of the film can be a critical psychoanalytical reading.
To be conclusive, the film is a must watch for both film critics and movie-goers. The film critics will surely find this to be a soothing experience. On the other hand, movie-goers will surely have a good time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film is a beautifully crafted and richly detailed feat of
consciousness-raising and serious drama with the verve of a good soap
opera. Against her family's wishes, a teenage girl (Gong Li) in 1920s
China becomes the fourth wife of a rich merchant, and finds herself
competing for her husband's good will against his other wives.
Raise The Red Lantern is an enthralling examination of a male-dominated society; director Zhang Yimou uses colour schemes, meticulously symmetrical compositions and stylised interiors to evoke an inflexible society. It is a film of ravishing formal beauty - to the extent that its look threatens to soften the ugly aspects of the society it depicts.
This is absolutely my favorite film. I have only seen it twice in my life, but I have never found a film so visually appealing, the cinematography is exquisite, the artistic use of color breathtaking. This is a heartbreaking yet inspiring film. I have and always will recommend Raise the Red Lantern to everyone. It has had that much of an effect on me. This was the first foreign language film I had ever seen, and it was one of those life changing experiences. I grew up a lot just watching it, and I came to understand and appreciate life just a bit more. I hope that many of you will take the time to watch this film; it is worth the time and effort of reading the subtitles.
Zhang Yimou's film shows how a genius in one medium (film) can transform a work by a genius in another medium: Su Tong, whose story inspired the film. Su Tong's novella focuses on Lotus (Songlian in the movie) from her arrival as the unexpected Fourth Mistress to Master Chen to her ultimate madness. Su Tong's story, although told in third person, is nonetheless centered on its main character. We initially encounter her on her arrival at the Chen household, when she is mistaken for a poor relation. We know at once that this Fourth Mistress has not received the arrival honors her three predecessors enjoyed. (The film represents this by showing her journey on foot to Chen's compound.). Problems with the young servant girl who attends her are also featured in Zhang's film. The movie invents actions and episodes that clarify events in the source story. Songlian's feigned pregnancy, for example, has no parallel in Su Tong's tale, although the novella does hint that the Fourth Mistress' status in the troubled household depends either on keeping Chen's sexual interest (in the story, he wanes into impotence) or producing a male heir. The movie uses this invention to conflate plot points in the story, notably Songlian's revenge on Yan'er, the servant girl who loathes her. In the story, Swallow (the servant) is forced by Lotus to eat a tissue soiled with Songlian's menstrual blood, which the Fourth Mistress regards as a charm Swallow created to curse her. In the movie, it is Yan'er's revelation to the Second Mistress that precipitates her fate when Songlian punishes her by forcing her to kneel for days in the freezing courtyard. Also, the movie moves to its climax when Songlian, while drunk, reveals that the Third Mistress is sexually involved with a doctor who regularly visits her; Lotus, in the story, knows this, but does not reveal the adultery at all, even though she does get drunk at a key point in the story. Zhang's film brilliantly conflates the story and invents episodes that amplify and - for Western viewers - simplify what Su Tong presents mainly through his focus on the increasingly fragile mind of his main character as well as through images that don't lend themselves easily to film drama. Zhang also invented the ritual of the red lanterns, which serve as a structuring device in the film as well as a correlative of each woman's standing in the Chen household. The lanterns, plus the division of the film into seasons (Songlian's one year in the household), realize on film a pattern in Su Tong's story. That story remains worth reading, if only because by reading it one can truly appreciate the changes Zhang made and the reasons for these changes. Su Tong's story is brilliant; Zhang's film is even better.
Now, 20 years later, I finally throw in my two bits.
This is fine, fine, cinematic storytelling: As great as anything Fellini ever did even in his earlier, narrative-focused work.
This is a film about the greatest tragedy of sexism: That women get relegated to a role as a collective screen upon which men project an image, where that image serves to mask the fact that those men still largely don't know who they are.
And the "mistresses" of the film comprise a bestiary of responses to this particular type of subjugation, each a peculiar species of character perversion: Playing the prim and proper grand dame; fawning on the oppressor while engaging in subterfuge with adversaries; having her cake and eating it too. In the end, I figured it out: These women could be parts of a unitary woman, one who feels the sting of being subject to such a bald, witless systemic hypocrisy.
Apparently, the film got shelved by the Chinese state apparatus for a spell, 'til cooler, more open-minded heads prevailed. Sure: It's a film about abuse of power. So? Who's afraid of Virginia Wolff?
RAISE THE RED LANTERN is a family drama about Songlian, a 19-year-old
Chinese woman who chooses to become the fourth wife of a rich magnate. The
four wives then betray and backstab each other as each seeks to dominate the
others. The servants, too, become pawns in their game.
Though undeniably well made, this is a hard film to like. An oppressive air of joylessness weighs it down from first to last. Songlian enters her husband's mansion in the second scene, and not a single shot thereafter strays from this prison masquerading as a home, where there is no color except for the red lanterns that signify the master's choice of which wife he will sleep with tonight. We hardly ever see sunlight, only grayness. Full marks for the cinematic craftsmanship, but the technical expertise doesn't make it any less depressing. One feels that happiness in this place would be an offense punishable by death, and eventually that proves to be true. The wives compete with each other for a prize that is not worth the winning: the attentions of a man whom they do not love and who does not love them.
It is tough to like the characters, who like neither themselves nor each other. If Songlian were a sympathetic person, the tragedy would be more powerful, but she has a vicious streak a mile wide; her goal is to climb above everybody else and then wipe her feet on them. Much is made of the fact that Songlian has attended a university, but her education has not helped her achieve any independence of mind, nor has it even liberated her from superstition. And what are we to make of her tearful rage when she discovers her husband groping the maid? Songlian knew before she ever married the man that she was sharing him with three other women, so this is not sexual jealousy she is showing, but resentment of a social inferior trespassing on ground reserved for her betters.
Of the four wives, only Meishan, the third, appears capable of forming a real friendship, but we see it only rarely and from afar; toward the other wives she is as catty and nasty as the rest. As for the master, he is a nonentity, a walking libido too shallow even to bother hating. The character I found myself rooting for the most was the servant girl Yan'er, who is just as nasty as any of the others, but is the only one to show any real defiance, any willingness to fight against the restrictions the house places on her.
The clearly redeeming feature of RAISE THE RED LANTERN is Gong Li's performance as Songlian; she plays her character to the hilt, with amazing verisimilitude. The writing may not allow her to win much sympathy, but you cannot avoid the feeling that this is woman, however awful, is a real person with real feelings.
Oddly, the subtitles constantly refer to the four wives as `Mistress' and the IMDB credits them as `concubines.' However, it appears that they are indeed wives, each married to the master; the Mandarin word used is `tai-tai,' which means wife.
I think that Zhang Yimou meant this movie as a denunciation of polygamy. It succeeds in this; never have I seen polygamy look less attractive for everyone involved. On the other hand, with characters like these, you could paint a pretty unappetizing picture of monogamy, too.
Rating: **½ out of ****.
Recommendation: Casual moviegoers should skip this one; hard-core cinephiles should not miss Gong Li's amazing work.
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