8.2/10
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109 user 54 critic

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)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 20 wins & 12 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 »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$2,603,061
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

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

Trivia

This film was banned in China for a short time in the early 1990s. 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 Nitrato d'argento (1996) See more »

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User Reviews

 
An awesomely emotive and touching performance
11 July 2006 | by John RuffleSee all my reviews

"Raise the Red Lantern" is a haunting study in oriental charm. The beautifully framed shots have a lingering, almost hypnotic quality as the household travels through the seasons in an endless journey that is guided by ancestor worship, protocol and "doing the right thing" even when it is bitterly, disastrously wrong. The pathos is etched in stark reality upon the face and graceful movements of Li Gong, who takes the lead as Songlian, the 'Fourth Wife'. One of the most emotive faces upon the cinema screen, she delivers an egg-shell-fine performance that is at the same time hardy, robust and wise.

The audience never gets to know the human face behind the husband. Maybe there is no face, no humanity there. It matters little, because this is indeed the only face his four wives and his carefully ordered household ever see. He is indeed, their captor, not suitor. The ageing male housekeeper maintains the order of the house, and in his hands, the raising, lowering and covering of the red lanterns becomes a symbol that stains the entire film red.

This picture needs to be understood to be appreciated. I can imagine that some will be frustrated by the apparent lack of action, the apparent lack of characterisation. But this is indeed the film's strength. We share in the pain and frustration of everything always being as it has been, yet nothing ever being really as it seems at all. The characters take on the mask-like appearance of ghosts, except that right in the middle of it all, living and breathing human beings are caught, stripped of their will, and subjugated beautifully; their sterile riches suffocating them.

In the VHS version I saw, the cover notes were very poorly written and misleading, hinting at a particular love interest that (fortunately, I can say) is not in the film, yet ignoring the symphony of clashing hearts and minds that are central to the wonderfully woven plot. If you have the same 1995 PAL UK widescreen release version that I viewed, my advice is read the IMDb summary on the film and don't take the sleeve notes too seriously.

Everything about this picture is superb. It is a two hour poem of finely balanced regret and retribution. Be fortified: and to really imbibe this at full strength, let the narrative disturb and move you. Let the pathos of the images wash over you, and be - just a little, perhaps - changed forever.


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