8.1/10
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Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Da hong deng long gao gao gua (original title)
A young woman becomes the fourth wife of a wealthy lord, and must learn to live with the strict rules and tensions within the household.

Director:

Yimou Zhang

Writers:

Su Tong (original novel "Wives and Concubines" by), Ni Zhen (scriptwriter)
Reviews
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 21 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Li Gong ... Songlian
Saifei He ... Meishan (Third Wife)
Jingwu Ma Jingwu Ma ... The Master
Cuifen Cao Cuifen Cao ... Zhuoyan (Second Wife)
Qi Zhao Qi Zhao ... Housekeeper
Lin Kong Lin Kong ... Yan'er
Shuyuan Jin Shuyuan Jin ... Yuru (First Wife)
Weimin Ding Weimin Ding ... Songlian's Mother (voice)
Zhengyin Cao Zhengyin Cao ... Old Servant
Zhigang Cui Zhigang Cui ... Dr. Gao (as Zhihgang Cui)
Chu Xiao Chu Xiao ... Feipu
Edit

Storyline

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 <seaman@sbbs.se>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

China, 1920. One master, four wives.

Genres:

Drama | History | Romance

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

China | Hong Kong | Taiwan

Language:

Mandarin

Release Date:

18 December 1991 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

Raise the Red Lantern See more »

Filming Locations:

Taiyuan, Shanxi, China

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$22,554, 15 March 1992

Gross USA:

$2,603,061

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$2,603,061
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Ranked number 93 non-English-speaking film in the critics' poll conducted by the BBC in 2018. See more »

Goofs

Around 01:18:59, there is a lot of smoke in front of the third wife. And there is almost no smoke in front of the second one. See more »

Quotes

Songlian's mother: Rich man? If you marry a rich man, you will only be his concubine.
Songlian: Let me be a concubine. Isn't that the fate of a woman?
See more »

Connections

Featured in The Turandot Project (2000) See more »

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User Reviews

Four Houses
19 March 2008 | by tedgSee all my reviews

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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