Oct 20, 2015

25th Oct 2015; Zhang Yimou's RAISE THE RED LANTERN

A film by Zhang Yimou
1991 / China/ 125 minutes /
5.45pm / 25th Oct 2015 / Perks Mini Theater

The film takes place within the gray stone and tile walls of the Chen complex, where the master lives in the central house and each of the four mistresses has a house of her own opening onto a central courtyard. Much of the action takes place on the rooftops, which link in a labyrinth of passageways and stairs, and include an ominous little house where, it is said, women have died--but in the past, of course.

The first three mistresses live in uneasy balance when the heroine Songlian arrives, and she becomes a catalyst for trouble. She learns that when the master selects the mistress he will favor for the night, a red lantern is placed outside her house. (The man who has the duty of announcing the nightly position of the lantern is puffed up with drama and importance.) 

The lucky mistress then receives a foot massage and is allowed to determine the menu for the next day. There is great competition to be selected, and Songlian eventually discovers intrigues within intrigues--even learning that she cannot trust those she thinks are her friends.

We know that rape is a crime of violence, not sex, and "Raise the Red Lantern" illustrates that, because these women are all essentially being raped as an effect of their position in a male-dominated society that holds them as economic captives. So the movie wisely focuses not on the sex itself, but on the situation that regulates and values it. 

Strange, how these women bow so completely to their situation, the will of the master, and to the "customs" of the family. There may be a feminist message here, but it is concealed well within the surface drama of the story."Raise the Red Lantern" is told so directly and beautifully, with such confidence, with so little evidence of compromise.
(Excerpts from Roger Ebert’s review)

Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou is an internationally acclaimed director working in the People’s Republic of China. He is one of the most prolific, versatile and significant of these Fifth Generation directors. His signature as a filmmaker is a storytelling mode dominated by visual display, especially of his female stars. This display is part of a complex picture of generation and gender in Zhang’s work that reaches back to debates on Chinese modernity in the early 20th century.

Zhang was born in Xi’an in 1951 . He grew up in socialist China where class struggle dominated life and literature. Like many young Chinese of the time, he was sent to farms and factories during the Cultural Revolution and so gained grass-roots knowledge of life in China. His directorial debut, Red Sorghum (1987), was also the first Fifth Generation film to capture a domestic mass audience and it catapulted him and his star, Gong Li, to local and international fame. It is widely recognised that Zhang’s visual imagery redefines the politics of Chinese self and identity. In the first decade, this imagery focused on the sexual power, reproductive continuity and spectacle of the female body onscreen.

Nevertheless, we could say that Zhang Yimou himself is a son of China whose filmmaking gazes at past, present and future through the “son”. In this sense, generation and gender are equally important in his films although the visual and often spectacular focus is on his female leads. Zhang does not claim that his films document China or its people; he creates fictional worlds through moving images that often defamiliarise, shock, seduce, and subvert. He documents desire instead, circulating themes that have long haunted the national psyche and using seductive image-ideas that marry reality, dream and nightmare. (From Senses of Cinema)

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