Friday, December 16, 2016
Zhang Yimou | 大紅燈籠高高掛 (Dà Hóng Dēnglong Gāogāo Guà) (Raise the Red Lantern)
a mean bunch
by Douglas Messerli
Ni Zhen (screenplay, based on Wives andn Concubines by Su Tong), Zhang Yimou (director) 大紅燈籠高高掛 (Dà Hóng Dēnglong Gāogāo Guà) (Raise the Red Lantern) / 1991
Despite the stunning beauty of Zhang’s Raise the Red Lantern, as well as the film’s strongly feminist themes, and the excellent acting of all those involved, there is something missing here that fails to make it the great cinema that it aspires to be.
Perhaps only Master Chen’s son, Feipu, who plays the flute, has any integrity, but his role is too small to give any evidence of this, and we can only imagine that he has been trained to carry on the Chen family traditions.
Dozens of other critics, however, highly lauded it, and the movie continues to be seen by many as one of the best films of the 1990s—which reveals, perhaps, that good sets (the film was shot on the Qiao Family Compound in northern China), beautiful costumes, and good actors often matter more in such epic-like storytelling than more complex and introspective narrative. It’s simply difficult for me to sit back and thoroughly enjoy a work, however, made up only of morally reprehensible figures. It’s said that this film alone caused a huge rise in tourist visits to China; but if this work is truly what China is like, I’ll stay home.
Los Angeles, December 16, 2016