Raise the Red Lantern

"Light the lanterns at the fourth house!"

Despite the bans on some of his earlier films like Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern in his home country of China, Zhang Yimou had exploded onto the world stage with these visually sumptuous films and had become a filmmaker worth talking about. Perhaps it was exactly this international presence that kept the Chinese government from suppressing his storytelling further – it gave him the popularity Zhang needed to keep making films. Whether that’s true or not, these early films of his certainly do feel like he has a few things to say about modern China, and it’s perhaps understandable that they’d take offense. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our Zhang Yimou series with his fourth film, 1991’s Raise the Red Lantern.

We talk about the story and how it could be read as a criticism of modern China, and why we don’t completely buy Zhang when he denies this. We discuss the look of the film – the compositions of the shots, the colors, the camera movement, the set design, the costumes – and how all of it reflects what Zhang is saying with the film. We chat about Gong Li and the rest of the cast, but particularly about Gong and the incredible performance she delivers here. We touch on the customs and traditions depicted in the film and ruminate on the worldbuilding going on here. And we debate the strength of the music – Andy loves it and Pete hates it. 

It’s a great film that Andy connects with while Pete felt it dragged on too much, but still allows for a great conversation. Regardless, we agree that it’s a film that must be seen, so check it out then tune in to this week’s show!

Film Sundries

Trailers of the Week

Andy's Trailer: The Beguiled — "I remembering finding Don Siegel’s 1971 version of this story very unsettling. Having it retold from not just a woman’s perspective, but from a strong female storyteller like Sofia Coppola, gets me quite excited. I’m thrilled she’s doing this and can’t wait to see it."

Pete's Trailer: Aftermath — "Arnold’s back! He’s got the brooding beard again, and frankly I thought this was going to be a weird sequel to Maggie. No, this is the true story of a plane crash in 2002 and the hunt for air traffic controller that allowed it to happen. Writer Javier Gullón is behind Enemy and Out of the Dark, both past trailer picks."

Ju Dou

"If they knew, they’d kill us."

The eighties were a period of turmoil and transition for the Chinese film industry. Other forms of entertainment were more popular and the authorities were concerned that films that had been popular, like martial arts films, were on the out. But a group of Chinese filmmakers, collectively known loosely as the Fifth Generation – with a push from the new Ministry of Radio, Cinema and Television – were about to change all that, helping Chinese cinema break onto the world stage. And Zhang Yimou was one of the ones leading the charge. But did the Chinese government expect the types of films they would be getting? Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we dig into Chinese cinema and kick off our Zhang Yimou series with his third film, Ju Dou

We talk about the nature of the film and its story, and how it can be seen as not just a look at Chinese politics in the 20s but also as an allegory of the oppressive political system in China at the time. We look at what Zhang brought to the table with the film and where it fits in his life and career. We chat about Gong Li, Zhang’s muse, and what she and her fellow actors bring to the table. We discuss the incredible look of the film, both from cinematography and production design, and what all the various colors could possibly symbolize. And we gripe about the quality of the image and how much better it would look if Criterion would just take our advice and give this the full treatment – the film is gorgeous but you’d never know by looking at this terrible transfer.

It’s a touching, powerful film from a visual artist who uses both the script and his images to tell a provocative story, not to mention that it helped open the door for Chinese cinema to the world. We have a great time looking at it and discussing Ju Dou on this week’s show. Check it out!

Film Sundries

Trailers of the Week

Andy's Trailer: My Life as a Zucchini — "There’s something magical about the animation quality of this film that really makes me connect to my youth. And while the world of life in a foster home isn’t something I ever knew, I certainly connect to the coming of age story of a young boy finding a kindred spirit in a new girl at the home. It has all the touching qualities that I loved so much in Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom and plenty of quirk to spare. I’m excited about this one."

Pete's Trailer: Punching Henry — "Man. I know creators go through swings. Jerks on the internet spew hate. Self-confidence wavers. I certainly try not to look at that stuff. But director Gregori Viens and writer Henry Phillips have given me a trailer that I feel pretty deeply connected to with Punching Henry. I can only hope the thing lives up to the heart of the trailer when it finally hits theaters and digital on February 21."

The Danish Girl

 "You helped bring Lili to life, but she was always there."

The Danish Girl certainly took a long time getting to the big screen. The script went through dozens of iterations after David Ebershoff’s book was first was optioned. The cast changed numerous times. Directors passed it back and forth. Finally, after fifteen years of floating around, Tom Hooper’s film was released. And while the lead performances were brilliant, the film itself felt a bit flat. And weirdly, this seems to be something we say far too often about films that take a long time to get to the silver screen. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we wrap up our Transgender series with Hooper’s 2015 film The Danish Girl.

We talk about what works in the film, but we really try to dig and figure out what might be causing it to have its issues. We look at the journey the book took to get to the screen, and look at the age-old question of what responsibility do filmmakers/storytellers have to the original story and the original people when making biopics. We discuss Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander and what they bring to the table here, along with their fellow thespians. We chat about the incredible look this film has and how it fits in with the story. And we touch on how this series has opened our eyes to other great films that we would love to share down the line.

This was a fun series, even if it ended on a bit of a downer note. It did give us perspective for the world of transgenders and what they go through to feel ‘right’ in their own bodies. We have a great time talking about this movie, so check it out then tune in!

Film Sundries

Trailers of the Week

Andy's Trailer: Lowriders — "This story is about several cultures I know nothing about – graffiti artists and fans of lowriders. On the premise alone, this doesn’t look like my cup of tea but what I love about films is they’re my chance to step into other people’s shoes and experience things from their point of view. That’s what I hope I get here. Plus, after being blown away by Demián Bichir’s performance in A Better Life, I’m game to see anything he does. Count me in."

Pete's Trailer: I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore — "It’s the strange little film I can’t stop thinking about. The driving motivator is simple, the comedy off-color, and the main character a charmer. Can’t wait til this hits Netflick 2/24."