Raise the Red Lantern (Da hong deng long gao gao gua) Reviews
And then the unnecessary back stabbing of each other and the tragedy at the end.
Visually beautiful too with the lanterns and costumes. Even the opera singing was very pretty, which was surprising to me!
While watching Zhang Yimou's "Raise the red lantern", I was briefly reminded of two other films, films that have little to no narrative connection with this one, but, in some sense, display some linguistic similarities: Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" and Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover", both great films in their own right.
On one hand, like in the case of Peter Greenaway's work(in general), the first way to get a handle on this film, is by following its craftsmanship. "Raise the Red Lantern" is not only a film of great beauty, but such a precisely executed one, that you can almost see the entire story through its shots, composition and use of color. Yes, unlike Greenaway's work, this film lacks the multiple references to art, because it does not need them. But there is a perfection in nearly each take, that hinds the eye of a trained painter(which Greenaway was).
And to continue with this parallel, while the opening act has its share of irony, it does necessarily follow that path and here is where Bergman came to mind: for all its beauty, the film is very cold, like most Bergman's works. And like most Bergman's films, this one revolves around close spaces, one might actually say that it is some sort of a Chinese chamber drama. And like "Cries and whispers", one can also look at the film through the way its protagonists interact. Oh, and let's not forget the haunting red present in both films.
But these parallels, indeed, are accidental and maybe too subjective.
As I said before, there is a strong contrast between the film's imagery and the film's overall atmosphere. Between the vivid and the livid. Outside its outer beauty, "Raise the red lantern" might be a rather unpleasant encounter. Outside a sense of grief and despair, Zhang Yimou's has crafted a beautifully, yet deliberated lifeless film.
In China, the red lanterns, among other things, are a symbol of joy(it is also, in some cases, a symbol of grief, but not in this context), but no one in this film seems even remotely happy., nor would they have a reason to be, for that matter.
Some of this is hinted from the very first act, in which there is a line revolving around women's feet and how important are they to her health and her further ability... to serve.
Another aspect that held my interest was the invisible male protagonist. Yes, I know, formally he is present, but we don't really get to have a good look at him, nor does he say something that would make him stand out. Of course, this is not the first character to be depicted in this fashion, but in most cases, such an approach prefaces a character wrapped in mystery. Here, the male protagonist is wrapped in irrelevance. We don't get to see him, because there is nothing to see. The few lines he has are bordering on the predictable and uninteresting. So, for a master - of any kind - he is woefully unremarkable.
And, since I don't like spoilers, I leave you with my conclusion and a Wikipiedia quote, that might be useful later on: overall, this is a masterful film, one that can grow on you, one that, in spite being cold and lifeless, doesn't lack insight.
"The Red Lanterns were the women's fighting groups organized by village women who were not allowed to join the men's groups during the Boxer Uprising of 1900. Villagers said these women had supernatural powers and were called upon to perform tasks which the male Boxers could not."(Source: Wikipedia)
Taking customs as given and immutable, they fight against each other to survive and thrive. The fights among themselves leave them no time nor strength to question the customs themselves - let alone to turn against those customs. Their minds are fully occupied by thoughts about people around them, and have absolutely no concepts about the structure that governs their interactions.
I didn't find the film very realistic or insightful at all. It is too operatic, too exaggerated, too artificially tragic, to give us much insight about the reality of Chinese society at that time. We see the characters only as pitiful victims of cruelty (imposed both by the structure and people). Yes, they have emotions and personalities, but they don't seem to have goals, or wishes, or a will at all. We see Songlian, the main character, through five seasons, and yet at the end of the film we still don't know what she wants. She remains as incomprehensible as ever.