Red Sorghum (1988) -Yimou Zhang

The What Else to Watch list from DK Canada’s The Movie Book following my screening of Raise the Red Lantern allows me to dive a little deeper into classic Chinese cinema by introducing me to Red Sorghum, another Li Gong film that is a very entertaining watch.

While the story synopsis makes it sound epic, the film’s 90 minute runtime prevents it from feeling that way. A young woman, Wo Nainai (Li Gong), is married to a leprous winery owner, but is killed shortly after their marriage, leaving her in charge of the estate and the wine.

And from there her troubles begin. She has a lover, who is a bit of a drunkard, Wo Yeye (Wen Jiang), there is a roving group of bandits led by Shanpao (Chunhua Ji) and the invading Japanese army.

We see the wine process that the estate follows, and that Nainai makes it a group effort, promising to share the profits with all of her workers, as she too has come from a poor family. They make a go of it, but with threats lingering on the edges of the sorghum fields, how long will their peace last?

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I have some problems with Yeye, his behavior, and the fact that Nainai is so accepting of it, when she seems like such a strong character in other regards, but overall, I enjoyed this film.

When the Japanese arrive, disrupting everything some true horrors are inflicted on the estate, and the survivors will live with those scars and the memories of what they have lost for the remainder of their lives.

There is an almost poetic feel to the film, as the color red, not only of wine, but of the blood that flows and is spilled, plays an important part in the film. Some of the shots, and locations are lovely to see, and framed perfectly, while Li Gong simply illuminates the screen each time she is present.

There are working songs throughout the film that illustrate the working life of these people, the things they hold dear, and the things that make them laugh. Of course, films like this always have an emotional cost for the characters, but even as the credits roll, there is a hope that springs from love, the blood and the wine.

I liked this one, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I did enjoy it, the production design, and acting was very enjoyable, and the story engaged me. I still believe it could have been longer, and in fact, made more epic, but it was a wonderful cinematic experience to savor.

And if you pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book, you can find a new classic to enjoy as well!

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