Red Sorghum (Hong Gao Liang) is a Chinese film directed by Zhang Yimou, featuring Li Gong and Jian Wen. Based on an original story by Mo Yan. It is Zhang Yimou's first film, and was a prize-winner at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1988.



The film begins with a girl named "Nine" (Li Gong), so called because she is born on the ninth day of the ninth month. Coincidentally, "nine" is pronounced the same as "wine" in Chinese - this has significance later on in the story. Nine is being married off to an old winery owner who is a leper, in exchange for a mule. As they pass through a thick wild sorghum field (see grain sorghum for an explanation of sorghum), a bandit stops the marriage sedan and orders everyone to give him money. The bandit then was about to drag Nine into the fields to rape her when the bald sedan chair porter (Jian Wen) attacks the bandit and the male porters end up killing the bandit. The rest of the way to the winery proceeds without incident. Nine is married to the leper.

A few days later, Nine's father comes to take her home for a day as was tradition to do so at the time. This time as they pass through the sorghum fields, and a masked bandit abducts her again. When Nine realizes that it is the bald sedan chair carrier, she stopped struggling. He flattened a small clearing in the sorghum field and made love to her. She returns to her mule and her father and they proceeded to walk home again. The sedan chair carrier walked hidden in the sorghum field with her as Nine and her father walk home and he sings a song of encouragement to her to not be afraid.

When Nine returns to the winery, the leperous owner has mysteriously died. It is hinted that the sedan chair carrier is probably the likely killer.

As everyone at the winery is about to leave after the owner has died, Nine transforms into a completely different role from her previous quiet, introverted persona and gathers everyone up to stay on at the winery. From here forward, Nine is no longer a meek girl being passed as a parcel between father and husband but in charge of her own life. Everyone at the winery refers to her as the boss and she is given the top rooms. She orders everything that the old leper touched to the burnt and red sorghum wine to be sprayed everywhere as a disinfectant.

The narrator refers to the bald-headed sedan chair carrier as "Grandfather", and says that it is said by other folks that he was conceived in the wild sorghum fields. When Nine moves into the inner rooms where the owner used to live, Grandfather, in his drunken stupor, tried to boast of his sexual exploits with Nine and move in with her. She of course, beat him with a broom and threw him out. A most memorable line from this segment of the movie was "Why are you one way when you didn't have pants on, but another now that you do? you're completely different!" -- which of course infuriated Nine even more.

Nine is abducted by Jiang-Pao (a bandit) and ransomed for a large amount of cash. During that time, she is not raped because it was believed that she had slept with a leper. When Grandfather awakes from his drunken stupor, he confronts Jiang-Pao and they nearly kill each other. When Grandfather learned that Jiang-Pao did not sleep with Nine, he is relieved and goes on his way.

The foreman of the winery Luohan invites Nine to witness the wine making process with him. This was interrupted when Grandfather intrudes upon the scene. Next comes one of the most poignant scene that is probably baffling to the foreigner. Everyone remains silent and still as Grandfather enters the scene. As revenge for his earlier drunken humiliation, Grandfather urinated into a vat of red sorghum wine. Everyone is speechless and no one makes a move to stop him. He then begins to shovel red sorghum husks everywhere - meaning he's trying to get everyone to leave - except Nine. He then goes to Nine, brushes the husks off of her, and carries her into the house. At first, it is just him carrying her, but she gradually rises up and holds on to his neck - signifying that she has accepted him and their relationship. Since she so openly accepted Grandfather, no one else does anything to stop Grandfather.

Later that night, Luohan tastes the vat of wine that Grandfather urinated in, and find that it's the best wine he's ever tasted. (Following the release of this film, red sorghum wine sales plummet in China). They name the wine "Eighteen Kilo Red".

The film jumps ahead 9 years and the time is in the 1920s-1930s. The Japanese is invading China and there is a lot of blood shed. The Japanese force all the inhabitants to demolish the wild sorghum fields. Then, as a show of force, the Japanese brought out two prisoners to be skinned alive in front of the gathered villagers. The old butcher that the Japanese are forcing to do the skinning at first pretends to comply, but at the last moment, he thrusts his knife into Jiang-Pao's heart to spare him a long and painful death. He is shot, and the butcher's assistant is held at gun point and told to skin Luohan for being a communist spy. The butcher's assistant, after skinning Luohan, goes insane.

Nine gathers all the men in the winery and they make a toast to Luohan for his bravery. They plot a way to retaliate against the Japanese. Although their way is crude and unsophisticated, they go through with it anyway. The confrontation with the Japanese forces goes as planned, until Nine showed up to deliver lunch to the winery workers and is killed in the cross-fire.

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