After scoring on the international art circuit with Red Sorghum and Ju Dou, former cinematographer Zhang Yimou delivers again with Raise the Red Lantern.
Pic deals even more pointedly with the oppression of women in China. Set in the 1920s, before the communist revolution, film opens with a beautiful young woman tearfully agreeing to become a concubine for a wealthy master. ‘Isn’t that a woman’s fate?’ Songlian (Gong Li) asks.
In a lavish compound, Songlian takes her place as the youngest and most attractive of four wives. Insidious intrigue between the women immediately begins. With a slow accretion of insults, one-upmanship and diplomacy, film plays like a chess game.
Pacing is deliberate, but the story [from Su Tong’s novella Wives and Concubines/Qiqie chengqun] is still gripping and visual textures are extraordinary. Gong’s presence gives the film a constant erotic charge.
[Pic was belatedly released in China in 1992.]