"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!
- Watch this film: YouTube
- Original theatrical trailer
- Original poster artwork
- Wives & Concubines by Su Tong (Contained in the collection Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas)