Yellow Earth (1984) – Kaige Chen

The What Else to Watch list from DK Canada’s The Movie Book is always filled with great selections, and today I dig into selections following my screening of Raise the Red Lantern. Yellow Earth is a somewhat familiar tale, as it follows a young Communist soldier, Cuiqiao (Bai Xue) in 1939 China. He has been assigned to gather folk songs for the Communist Army, and travels to remote parts of Chinese provinces to gather them.

In his search, he learns that the happy worker songs that he seeks do not exist. The songs are of longing, bitterness, and struggle. But there’s a girl.

Gu Quing (Xueqi Wang) is a lovely young woman, who is enchanted by the young soldier, and is enthralled by the promise of freedom that he speaks of under the rule of Communism. She longs to leave with him, and join the Communist Army.

It’s a very much Boy Meets Girl, Boy Likes Girl, Girl Likes Boy, Girl joins Communist Army.

Actually once the soldier learns the trials and troubles of peasant life in the Northern Provinces, the story shifts its attention to Gu Quing, who at fourteen is being forced to marry an older man when her wedding dowry was used to pay for the burial services of her mother and her brother’s engagement.

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This causes many problems, and while the soldier’s words enthralled her, he cautions her about running off to joining the Army, even though he does recognize the situation she is in.

She does not take his advice and in fact plunges into the Yellow River, and we are left to wonder if she survives… Hanging over all of this is the threat of a drought on the farmlands, promising to destroy the livelihood of the farmers.

It’s a beautifully crafted film, and doesn’t pull its punches in any regard, showing the brutal life of the peasants, and even some warnings about the Communist government. At the heart of the film is the performances of both the leads giving viewers a look at a world that none of us have been privy to.

And that, in a nutshell is the beauty of foreign cinema, it gives us a look at cultures and lives that some of us may never have access to, and it lets us see the history and the storytelling of the world at large.

It is a lovely film, and enjoyable to watch and yet another film I had never even heard of until I dug into DK Books’ The Movie Book. You can find a new to you classic tonight by picking one up today!

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