(Da hong deng long gao gao gua)

Directed by Yimou Zhang (Zhang Yimou)
Written by Su Tong and Ni Zhen

In Mandarin with sub-titles.

Cast:
Cuifen Cao .... The Second Concubine
Li Gong .... Songlian
Caifei He .... The Third Concubine
Kong Lin .... Yan'er
Jingwu Ma .... The Master's son
Zhao Qi .... Chen Baishun
Jin Shuyuan .... Yuru
Ding Weimin .... Songlian's mother
Chu Xiao .... Feipu
Cao Zhengyin .... Old servant
Cui Zhihgang .... Dr. Gao

Plot Summary
Set in China in the 1920's. After her fathers death, nineteen year old Songlian is forced to marry Chen Zuoqian, the lord of a powerful family. Fifty year old Chen has already three wives, each of them living in seperate houses within the great castle. The competition between the wives is unremitting, as their master's attention carries power, status and priviligies. Each night Chen must decide which wife to spend the night with and a red lantern is lit infront of the house of his choice. And each wife schemes and plots to make sure it's hers. Against her will, Songlian finds herself drawn into the pettiness and scheming and in the end is driven insane by it.

The opening scene of Li Gong's face and the single tear that wells from her eye. The shots of the tiled roofs in the courtyard where the wives are kept. These are enough reason to watch this film.


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The red lanterns and the tradition and ceremony revolving around them used in Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern have no basis in Chinese history. According to John Hamm and Yomi Braester (assistant professor and adjunct professor at the University of Washington's department of Asian Languages and Literature, repectively) the only historical use of red lanterns in such a fashion was by imperial subjects who had received a personal commendation from the Emperor.

Zhang Yimou has often been accused of misrepresenting and distorting Chinese culture and history in his films, the invention of the red lantern tradition being but one example. However, I am of the opinion that he is a director concerned with accurately portraying human tragedy and not Chinese history. Were he more concerned with historical accuracy, his movies would be absent of some of their most powerful scenes.

However one may feel about the invention of a tradition for a film, the red lanterns are an extremely effective narrative tool.

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