Raise the Red Lantern (1991) – Yimou Zhang

The next film in DK Canada’s informative and entertaining The Movie Book is this beautifully shot Chinese film starring Li Gong.

Set in the 1920s, Songlian (Li) elects to become the fourth mistress of a wealthy lord, Chen Zuoqian (Jingwu Ma). She soon finds herself enmeshed in the rules of the household, and the scheming and plotting of the other three wives.

The film absolutely mesmerizes as Songlian learns the ins and outs of the household, the secrets, and the fact that she may not know who to trust. As the wives manipulate her, and play her off against the others, Songlian begins to regret her decision to become the concubine of a rich man, and descends into depression and madness, even as she begins manipulations of her own.

A fantastic character piece, the film is very much about the women of the story, in fact any time the Master, Chen, is on screen, we never see him face on, except through the gauze of curtains. He is often seen in profile, or from behind. There are just as many moments when he isn’t even on the estate.

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Each of the mistresses have their own house, serviced by a personal maid, and all over seen by the keeper of the house. The rules are set and are expected to be followed, and those who know the rules can use them to their benefit.

What follows is an engaging story, and a captivating performance by Li Gong as she learns that nothing is safe, and no one, not even herself, can be trusted.

Everything is brought to life beautifully, and the imagery and story at work completely sweeps up the viewer. Songlian is a layered character who is lauded for her six months of university, but despite some of her education, she is ignorant of some of the requirements of the house, and the accepted protocol and behavior.

This gives the viewer their in, being able to relate, at least in part, to her character, and we hurt when we see how things play out for her, and her new family.

I had long heard about this film, I remember seeing it on the shelves of the stores I worked in, but never took it home. I’m glad I waited to settle in for it, as I definitely appreciated it more now than I would have when I was younger.

It’s a beautiful and moving film, and can be found in the fantastic The Movie Book from DK Books. Why don’t you pick up a copy today and find a new classic to watch tonight!

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