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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.