Raise The Red Lantern | Images and Movie Reviews
If there were any fairness in Hollywood, Gong Li would have won the Academy Award for Best Actress for any one of her many movies. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, she is an exquisite actress of the first order. The opening scene, a close-up of her face as she resigns herself to her nihilistic future, will convince anyone of this fact. Raise the Red Lantern is a thinking, engrossing movie that dispenses with special effects and overwhelming scores and concentrates on story and acting. Director Zhang Yimou's greatest film.
Raise the Red Lantern shows one very strong, independent woman's attempt to overcome thousands of years of historic oppression in early 20th century China. Women are collectibles for rich men, mere objects of possession. The horrific backstabbing and betrayal is among the women themselves as they vie for most-desired-object status. When the human need for dignity and respect surface, the repercussions are catastrophic and create victims of almost everybody involved with a variety of different outcomes.
The plot has been well documented, although this is one of those movies where the less you know going in the better. Suffice to say the first thing you'll want to do once the movie is over is to watch it again. It is disappointing to see a number of very mediocre movies receiving 4 and 5 stars simply because they shun the standard Hollywood formula, as if mainstream automatically equals bad and independent automatically equals good. The mediocrity of these films becomes apparent when compared to indy films of the highest caliber, such as Raise the Red Lantern.
One of the more popular imports of the 1990s, Raise the Red Lantern invites western viewers into an exotic foreign world... a patriarchal Chinese household in which wife-concubines compete for the favors of their husband, The Master. The beautifully photographed tale presents an alien and hostile marital arrangement that makes desirable women into powerless birds in gilded cages.
The 1920s. The sad Songlian (Li Gong)'s father has died, so she is forced to leave the University. Her stepmother marries her off to a rich man in the city (Jingwu Ma), where she is installed as his 'fourth wife'. The third wife is Meishan, a bitterly jealous ex- opera singer (Caifei He) and the second is Zhouyan (Cuifen Cao), a much friendlier woman.
The first wife Yuru (Jin Shuyuan) is far older, with a grown son away at school (Chu Xiao). Songlian finds that fitting in is next to impossible, as the other wives play wicked games to attract the attention of the Master. The house is run like a harem, with special favors granted to The Master's favorite of the moment; Songlian soon rebels against the centuries-old traditions.
Her maid Yan'er (Lin Kong) is also hostile, as she secretly wants to be a concubine and has been passed over. Songlian finds herself in a complicated trap, not permitted to leave the house or communicate with outsiders. She also learns of the 'death house' on the second floor, where adulterous concubines of old have been taken and hanged. As the average American movie of the 1980s swung toward lightweight action pictures and tedious comedies, we saw fewer serious stories about the past.
Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern was embraced by art-house audiences for its intelligence and novelty. Author Su Tong's characters never voice feminist sentiments, but the egregiously oppressive situation makes a universal statement about women's rights. Economically de-classed, Songlian has little choice but to let her stepmother sell her into marriage, an arrangement that grants her few personal rights. The tiny courtyard of The Master's imposing mansion becomes Songlian's entire world. Her master wants only sex, entertaining companionship and sons; love does not factor into the equation.
IMAGE | Raise The Red Lantern | Mistress 4 House At Night Of Deep Blue Buildings And Red-Orange Lanterns
Servants use large paper lanterns to decorate the room of the wife with whom The Master will sleep. The women inevitably find subtle ways to compete with one othe. When The Master is with Songlian, wife #3 feigns sickness or sings to disturb their rest. Songlian responds with muted anger because she has no dignity and no options. Rituals restrict the behavior of the wives and complaining about conditions is useless. They naturally turn against each other. Everything we see in Raise the Red Lantern is fascinating. The Master's wish is everything, and he can sample the favors of the servant Yan'er on the side. Songlian's efforts to assert her personal will are stymied by the discovery that her strongest ally is two-faced, and her sworn enemy is really a soul mate, a 'sister under the silk'.
Opportunities exist to contact other men -- The Master's grown son and a doctor are regular visitors to the walled house -- but nobody even wants to talk about the penalty for infidelity. As it is, the wives' energies are spent dragging each other down, whether intentionally or by accident. The patriarchy thrives because the females are utterly powerless. Director Zhang's formal compositions make practically every shot in Raise the Red Lantern a thing of beauty. The angles are so well chosen that camera moves become almost invisible. The Master remains a remote character. Although he's present in many scenes, we never get a clear look at his face. Songlian has no honest relationship with him, as the rituals leave no room for real personal interaction. The Master behaves in a kind but wholly authoritarian manner. With millions starving, what right have his pampered wives to complain? Star Li Gong (billed in the west as Gong Li) has since been active internationally; she's appeared in The Emperor and the Assassin, Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice. We first think that her Songlian will shed her tears and become a standard 'strong female' character, using her heart and mind to better her lot in life. Raise the Red Lantern chooses instead to be faithful to historical realities.
Visually astonishing and dramatically devastating, Raise the Red Lantern is both the most finely realized film of director Zhang Yimou's celebrated career and one of the landmark films of the 1990s. Like Zhang's previous Ju Dou (1990), Lantern is a damning portrait of women at the mercy of a rigid patriarchal power structure. Zhang's voluptuous visual style accentuates Songlian's plight, as the film's static camera echoes the stagnancy of the household's feudal traditions and elaborate rituals. The camera's framing, which seems to incarcerate the characters, adds to the household's rancid, claustrophobic atmosphere. Coming only a few years after the bloody massacre at Tiananmen Square, the film could be read as an (oblique) critique of contemporary China, as the perpetual struggle for power that precludes any unity among the wives provides a depressingly apt metaphor for the fragmented civil society of post-Cultural Revolution China. Though banned in both China and in Taiwan, Raise the Red Lantern received armfuls of international awards and a nomination for an Academy Award, thus cementing Zhang's status as a leading figure in world cinema and reaffirming the vibrancy of Chinese cinema.
Zhang Yimou´s "Raise the Red Lantern" is one of the five best movies that I´ve ever seen in my life. Recently, Zhang Yimou enjoyed considerable international success with the martial-arts movies "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers". Both movies featured the excellent actress Zhang Ziyi, who not only appeared in Ang Lee´s "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" but also worked with Zhang Yimou on "The Road Home". Still, as good as "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" are, Zhang Yimou´s critical reputation was built on a long collaboration with Gong Li, the first international Mainland-China star in the contemporary era. Zhang Yimou graduated from film school as a cinematographer. He worked twice with director Chen Kaige, who would become a famous director himself with "Farewell My Concubine". Zhang´s background explains his use of colors and compositions to great effect. His striking visuals rank him as one of the great stylists of all time in any medium. Zhang´s first outing as a director was "Red Sorghum" in 1987. This was his first collaboration with Gong Li, and this was also Gong´s first major production. Zhang and Gong became lovers in real life, though their relationship ended sometime around 1995. They are re-uniting for 2006´s "Autumn Remembrance", though Gong is now married.
This movie was very, very well-done. Incredible story, amazing acting, awesome visuals... The costumes and sets are gorgeous. Raise the Red Lantern is a classic movie that will draw you in from the first scene. Definitely worth seeing.
"Raise the Red Lantern" is an adaption by Ni Zhen of the 1990 novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong and was turned into a breathtaking movie by director Zhang Yimou and starring Chinese superstar Gong Li. The film tells the story of a young woman who becomes the fourth concubine of a wealthy man during the Warlord Era in China (1920s). The master decides on a daily basis the concubines he will spend the night with; whomever he chooses gets her red lanterns lit. While everything seems to center on the master he hardly ever appears and it is all about the 4 women and their role in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house. It is a quite movie, but very intense and impresses with its opulent visuals and sumptuous use of colors. In aesthetic terms it is simply breathtaking. Gong Li portraits the 4. mistress simply to perfection. All in all, it is a movie one should not miss. This is a great and rare treat.
Raise The Red Lantern must be one of the most refined and elegant Chinese films ever made. A beautiful young woman is pushed into becoming a junior wife of a rich man by her widowed stepmother who can no longer support her and finds that sharing not just a detatched husband but her whole life with her older "sisters" is a microcosm of suspicion and envy. The women in this cloistered world have only their companionship with each other to entertain them but they have beautiful clothes and small luxuries, like foot massage, when they are pregnant. The emotional deprivation becomes too much for one of the wives though with disastrous consequences. What is intriguing about this film is the deft and subtle way that the viewer is enveloped into the world of the women and confronted with the same dilemma as the new bride to work out who are friends and enemies. As the story unfolds, the Hitchcock like terror underpinning their discipline becomes apparent but for one of them it is too late. I would strongly urge anyone to see this film - mostly especially if high quality world cinema is of interest to you.
I saw Raise The Red Lantern in the mid 90's and end-up buying the DVD to add to my collection. Excellent acting and story. The characters are great. Very well directed. Two thumbs up! I highly recommend. Gong Li is such an attractive woman.
Zhang Yimou directed this fascinating, visually formal 1991 film about an educated woman (Gong Li) who is sent off to become the newest wife of a feudal nobleman in 1920s China. Nearly isolated in his spooky, palatial home, she develops relationships with several of the other wives and slowly becomes aware of a hideous legacy of punishment toward other women. Gong Li, one of the world's great actresses, is superb.
My good friend decided Raise The Red Lantern was the best movie to watch on girl night. At first I didnt want to watch a movie in subtitles but as the movie continued, I found myself amazed by this movie. This kind of stuff actually happened. Maybe not this extreme but sharing the man you are married to, is not always that easy. I bought this movie and made my husband watch it. He said he really enjoyed this film as well.
All of Gong Li's movies are good and this one is probably her best one. Very sad and shows the early chinese rulers treatment of women and concubines. However, I like this movie because it is more from the point of view from the concubines, not the master...so you can totally understand how they feel and get a look into their world. Raise The Red Lantern is a beautiful movie.
"Raise the Red Lantern" took me three nights to watch, not because it was a dull story, but because my ocular senses had to recover from the glory of each of the scenes. What may have been lacking in story depth, made up for in visuals as this story of a concubine in China desperately adjusts to a life she was not eager to step into. Handed limited options, Songlian (the fourth mistress) is handed the keys to an elaborate castle, one full of red lanterns, foot massages, lavish food, and a maid to wait on her hand and foot. Alas, not all is as perfect as it may seem, with three other mistresses under one roof (coupled with a scored maid) - the events get dramatic, mistresses pine for time with the "Master", and the hardships of living in this culture become clear as "Raise the Red Lantern" couples history, fiction, and amazing visuals to weave an important story to the screen. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first - a two hour film that deals with an archaic tradition that may focus more on the dramatics than an actual compelling story, but I was wrong. "Raise the Red Lantern" proves itself Oscar-worthy (alas, overshadowed by the "Mediterraneo" win) and coincidentally extremely passionate and watchable 2 decades since it's release.
Boasting big sets, amazing decor, and a taboo subject, "Raise the Red Lantern" pulls the viewer in with its stark realism, the elaborate nature of women in China in the 1920, and a score that is both haunting and refreshing. The smallest of scenes will pull you further into the film than imagined, and the subtle-ness of evil in contrast to women vying for the attention of one man is done in such a way that the emotions of sympathy, anger, frustration, and jealousy will boil up within. This is a movie that doesn't speak often, but says quite a bit through imagery and small actions. There is one scene in particular that was filmed gorgeously by director Yimou Zhang, which involves the discovery and subsequent downfall of Songlian's way of life. The long shot followed by her transformation was invigorating to say the least. Coupled with the stark beauty of winter, there is no question as to why this film has been lauded by critics and viewers alike.
There is something unique about the way Zhang creates a sense of claustrophobia by keeping us in two-three rooms, yet each scene is fresh and new - that sense of stale surroundings is never present. This is a beautiful film, yes, but the acting is like more icing on the cake. Li Gong does a impressive job as Songlian, as we see her from the early excitement/nervousness about this change in her life, to seeing what tricks need to be pulled, to that question of sanity. This makes you revert back to the beginning of the film to wonder if something else had been missed. Your perception of Songlian will revert backwards as you attempt to see who she really is. Has she found a life, or merely unable to cope with the realities of the surroundings? Given the power of Songlian, it is tough to see anyone else stealing her glory, but Yan'er nearly does. Watch this subtle performance - as the maid scorned by another lover - she nearly steals every scene. Between these two, it is a delicate balance. With the beauty of the scenes and the acting, it is nearly a perfect film.
VISUAL: MGM's release of this film (up converting on my Blu player) is immaculate. If this ever finds a true Blu release, it will easily be added to the collection. The reds are solid, the whites of the snow are delicate, and the long shots of the Master's villa nearly transforms you from the couch to the screen. It is easy to get lost in "Raise the Red Lantern" purely by the cinematography. The 2.35 widescreen is amazing, no matter which size screen you are working with.
SOUND: Brilliant as well. The bold oriental sounds permeate through the visuals, giving two of our senses a crisp dose of intensity. The Chinese/Mandarin language with the English subtitles work to create the language, without leaving big gaps or being too overbearing. It nearly felt like a 5.1 surround, but it isn't specified. If it were 2.0, it was impressive.
I was very pleased with this film. "Raise the Red Lantern". I am excited about adding this film to the collection, and look forward to the other films Yimou Zhang has released.
A masterpiece. The historical dramas of Zhang Yimou, a master "Fifth Generation" filmmaker who emerged from the reopened Beijing Film Academy during the liberal climate of the early 1980s, resonate with subtexts of repression, resistance and retribution. Though Zhang's screenplay for RAISE THE RED LANTERN (based on the 1989 novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong) got a stamp of approval from the Chinese censors, the finished production was banned at home while playing to great praise abroad. Set in a wealthy 1920s Chinese household, the tale has the timeless quality of a fable, as a lovely nineteen-year-old named Songlian (Gong Li), forced to set aside her academic ambitions, resignedly sells herself to a rich man who already has three wives. "Let me be a concubine," she declares. "Isn't that a woman's fate?" Songlian arrives at the ancient, sprawling palace of Master Chen (Ma Jingwu), where she is welcomed as "Fourth Sister" in the aristocrat's harem. But beneath the polite surface boils a cauldron of intrigue and hatred, as rival wives scheme to win the Master's favor from day to day.
As the freshest arrival, Songlian gets the most of Chen's sexual attentions, until he's dragged away by the complaints of wife number three, Meishan (He Caifei), a onetime opera star who now craves the spotlight at home. Songlian is comforted by Second Sister, Zhuoyun (Cao Cuifeng), a kind-looking matron who is later accurately described by Meishan as having the face of the Buddah and the heart of a scorpion. Almost all of this superbly rendered tragedy takes place within the confines of the Master's vast estate, and Zhang Yimou uses a mostly stationary camera to frame the characters within careful compositions of doorways, portals, canopies and courtyards; the severe, rigid style effectively turns the sumptuous residence into a metaphorical prison compound. As bleak as the material sounds, there is a certain sardonic humor, mostly from the spirited Meishan and even the Master himself, who's absolutely baffled as to why his spouses seem so discontented. This sumptuously shot $1 million production was financed by Taiwanese interests through a Hong Kong intermediary, and it was Hong Kong that submitted RAISE THE RED LANTERN as its official candidate for the 1992 Academy Award for best foreign language film, a move disapproved by Beijing. In 2002, Zhang helped adapt a full-evening version of RAISE THE RED LANTERN for the National Ballet of China; the production, which combined classical Chinese and Western dance, theater and musical traditions, featured choreography by Wang Xinpeng and an original score by Chen Qigang.
(1991) “She has the face of Buddha and the heart of a scorpion.” 1920s China: As the red lanterns are raised before a mistress’s quarters inside the unseen Master’s larger compound — denoting the one he’s picked to be tonight’s bed mate — new girl Gong Li, sold by her mother into concubinage straight from college to become Mistress #4, must learn the ways of a rich older man’s harem in a hurry. A serene, seemingly-above-the battle first wife; a gentle, seemingly resigned #2; the jealously competitive former opera singer #3; an uppity, ambitious servant: the intra-harem rivalries proliferate, including false pregnancies and discreet infidelities — and what’s that mysterious shack doing on the roof? But eventually there’s going to be a reckoning, and another girl waiting in the wings. Originally banned in China, this was the last of Zhang’s color-drenched, dazzingly-photographed triumphs of style (the first lighting of the lamps as dusk closes in is an Eisensteinian tour de force) and his second straight Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, winning top honors from the London, New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics. “The emotional anchor for all Zhang’s films is Gong Li — her face a map of cool insurrection, her figure proud and voluptuously western. But Red Lantern offers other, more exalted orders of ogling. As it plays out its melodrama, it radiates a ravishing color scheme; it delights in the symmetrical framing of gorgeous objects, human and architectural.” – Richard Corliss, Time. “Zhang Yimou is as great a director of interiors as Ozu or Mizoguchi — the dye works in the household in Red Lantern become superb stages for the melodrama.” – David Thomson. “Can no doubt be interpreted in a number of ways and yet it works because it is so fascinating simply on the level of melodrama. Entirely apart from the plot, there is the sensuous pleasure of the architecture, the fabrics, the color contrasts, the faces of the actresses. But beneath the beauty is the cruel reality of this life, just as beneath the comfort of the rich man’s house is the sin of slavery.” – Roger Ebert. AN MGM RELEASE.
The phenomenal success and international acclaim of Raise the Red Lantern, cemented Zhang Yimou's status as a leading figure in world cinema and reaffirmed the vibrancy of Chinese cinema. Though the film was the topic of great political controversy in China upon its release, it received armfuls of awards from Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom and a nomination for an Academy Award. This sumptuously photographed drama, set in Northern China in the 1920s and based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, stars Gong Li as Songlian, the fourth wife of an elderly landlord. Songlian is a college student who has been married off by her stepmother, so it is with tremendous frustration that this woman, who had hopes of using her education to broaden her horizons, now finds herself reduced to a small enclosure at the beck and call of her husband. Despite being given a maid (Kong Lin) and luxurious surroundings, she feels trapped inside the cheerless walls. Upon her arrival, Songlian realizes that she must keep one step ahead of her rivals, the three other wives. She also learns of her husband's tradition of lighting a lantern outside of the house of the wife with whom he intends to spend the night. During the first night together with her husband, she finds he is called away to tend to his spoiled third wife (He Caifei). Songlian then becomes acquainted with his other wives -- his first wife (Jin Shuyuan), an elderly woman who ignores Songlian; the third wife, an ex-opera singer; and the second wife (Cao Cuifeng), who offers Songlian friendship and helpful advice. But it turns out that the second wife's motives are not exactly innocent--she is conspiring with Songlian's maid to undermine both the third wife and Songlian. Raise the Red Lantern is a moving exploration of power in a suffocating world of ossified tradition and naked ambition-a masterpiece of 1990s world cinema.
China - Raise the Red Lantern - Forget Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; the film that sparked a resurgence in Chinese tourism was Raise the Red Lantern (1991), says Enson Sakuraki Kawa, Chinese director at the Asian Film Commissions Network. "That movie was the first thing to entice foreigners back to China since Tiananmen Square in 1989. The location Pingyao used to be just a strange, small town; now it's like a tra-veller's paradise." Despite Tiger's greater critical acclaim, he singles out Hero as more influential. "Crouching Tiger didn't have as much of an impact on general tourism - though it did bring plenty of dollars to the Chinese Kung-Fu Schools."
Zhang Yimou’s Raise The Red Lantern is simply one of the most elegantly staged, perfectly lit and beautifully photographed films ever made. Every scene is meticulously framed and composed, with every single frame worthy of being hung in a picture gallery. But it is more than just a series of pretty pictures. Every image tells its own story, expressing mood, character and detail through the costumes, the set designs, the colours and the lighting. Even though the film, once past the introduction, doesn’t leave the enclosed confines of a single household, even the heat, rain and snow of the passing seasons each impress their own character onto the turbulent machinations and events that go on there. Forced by her stepmother to give up her studies at university, a young 19 year-old girl Songlian (Gong Li) agrees to take a husband – but on her own terms. If she must marry, she wants to marry a rich man. Thus Songlian becomes a concubine as the Fourth Mistress of the rich Master of the Chen household. She is given her own maid, Yang, and soon learns the ancient customs and rituals of the household. Each night the Master chooses one of his four wives to spend the night with and the fortunate recipient of the Master’s fortune is honoured with a foot massage by one of the servants, while the red lanterns are lit in their quarter. However Songlian soon also meets the Master’s other three wives, each of them practised competitors for his attentions. The arrival of a new, young and pretty Fourth Mistress soon intensifies the rivalries and scheming of the other women, particularly the Third Mistress, a beautiful former opera singer. The themes and treatment of Raise The Red Lantern closely follow Yimou's previous film Ju Dou (1990), but everything from the script, to the performances and the cinematography is raised to a higher level of artistry.
More than just a beautifully composed and photographed film, Raise The Red Lantern is also much more than just a period piece about ancient customs, rituals and outdated laws such as the owning of concubines. While that way of life may no longer seem to be relevant in the modern world, the film clearly has a point to make about the role of women in modern Chinese society where education for women is still a luxury that many families cannot afford and marriage is consequently their only career option. These themes of the plight of women and peasants in modern Chinese society would be expanded on further by the director in other films like To Live, Not One Less and The Story of Qiu Ju. Perhaps due to the restrictions that have led to many of Yimou’s films being banned in his home country - Ju Dou with an essentially similar subject failed to pass the Chinese censor the previous year - those themes are perhaps necessarily less overt here. It's a restriction that works towards the film's advantage, giving it a degree of subtlety that was not evident in Ju Dou, appearing to be critical of an old and decadent lifestyle, but at the same time being critical of similar restrictions and attitudes that still oppress Chinese women. Whether the film is considered to have a political dimension or not, it certainly has plenty to say about the roles of men and women, and it is here in the realm of human interaction that the film most successfully achieves its aims. With tremendous force and at the same time delicacy, Yimou delineates the power battles between Songlian and the Master, the schemes and counter machinations the Fourth Mistress embarks upon with the other wives and her attempts to dominate her maid – a girl every bit as proud and headstrong as herself. The emotional charge of these events is, as I indicated earlier, perfectly complemented and enhanced by the stunning photography and set designs. What raises Raise The Red Lantern to the level of greatness however is the performance of Gong Li. With incredible precision, she captures the entire character of Songlian in the opening couple of minutes of the film, looking directly at the camera as she expresses her intentions to her stepmother. In her expression, tone of voice and gestures in one single shot that culminates with the rolling of tears down her face, can be read her disappointment at the direction her life has taken and her acceptance of the wishes of her stepmother, yet her headstrong determination not to be defeated, defiantly challenging her stepmother by agreeing to marry, but only on her terms. This dictates her attitude throughout the rest of the film and the course of events that are to follow. If you can, try not to be overly distracted by the subtitles and watch Gong Li’s performance throughout the film. It’s something quite incredible.