Raise the Red Lantern (1991), places all of Gong Li’s considerable talents on display in this powerful tale set in 1920’s China.
Gong Li plays Songlian, a nineteen-year old girl whose family has fallen on hard times. She agrees to an arranged marriage with a rich, older man. Thus, the innocent Songlian enters a household as #4 Concubine.
The opulent castle into which she moves is a petri dish of bitter jealousies and Machiavellian rivalries as the wives maneuver for the attention and affection of their husband and master.
The narrative feels almost biblical as the wives align for position and power with and against one another. The alliances are liquid as enemies become friends and friends become enemies. In the end, the all-powerful husband matters far less than the desperate relationships forged by the women.
The film is gorgeous, every composition carefully framed. The colors are chilly and crisp, jelly bean hues set against the muted grays of the massive castle. Director Zhang Yimou is a master of scale. Like the best of silent directors, he understands how to convey worlds of emotion by placing his characters against vast spaces and overpowering architecture.
Too many modern film writers and directors rely on exposition when silence and geography are far more eloquent.
Gong Li’s performance is unerring in portraying the stages through which Songlian moves: from reluctant and baffled young bride, to a devious plotter in the dysfunctional household.
Some critics view the film as a metaphor for the ravages of Communist rule, but the great director Zhang Yimou has denied this. The film was banned in China for quite a while so obviously the authorities teased meanings from the movie that displeased them. Allegory or not—and I’m not so sure about this—Raise the Red Lantern is a fine film that affords a view of a foreign culture that feels strangely close to home.
In this brief clip, Gong Li as Songlian watches Third Mistress, played by He Caifei, a former opera singer, vent her feelings through song, thereby allowing Songlian a glimpse into her own isolation.
If you decide to purchase the DVD, make sure to get the 2007 MGM remastered version. Previous releases are of such poor quality that the images look like mud.
Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely and peaceful Shabbat.
Seraphic Secret has always maintained that the global warming/climate movement is a form of mass hysteria, an academic delusion—we rely on common sense—invented in order to minimize the true danger of transnational Islamist terrorism. Climategate should prove the undoing of this fanatic secular religion.
H/T Son-in-Law #1.