Kelly Rothberger Raise the Red Lantern Intro to Film Professor Henderson 26 May 2005 Raise the Red Lantern 1. Discuss two things you learned from your reviews that helped you appreciate your film more. Zhang Yimou directed this Chinese film, Raise the Red Lantern, which stars the beautiful actress, Gong Li. This movie was based on the book Wives and Concubines. The story is of a young woman who becomes the fourth wife of a rich older man and her adapting within this new household. Yimou makes this film so visually pleasing we cannot help but be drawn into the world of these wives. In Roger Ebert’s review, he discusses the master shot of the house. Yimou shoots the master shot of the central courtyard space of the house from above. This shot is return to again and again. As you watch the movie, you are pulled into this closed off world of the fourth wife. Without realizing it, the audience forgets the outside world exists, and this small household is what you know. This master shot emphasizes the visual metaphor of the fourth wife’s jailed spirit. Since the viewpoint of the courtyard never changes either, the director is trying to show her viewpoint of her new world cannot change either, and she must adapt her own spirit to survive in her trapped world. Desson Howe from the Washington Post addresses the role of color in the fourth wife’s world, especially red, in this film. Differentiating itself from American films, the director used the classic three strip Technicolor process, a technique Americans never use. Red is symbolic of many things: power, favor, and jealousy. The red lanterns indicate power for the wives. The wife who is chosen for the night has power over everyone’s meals, treated to luxurious foot massages, and has the master’s attention. The color makes the movie so visually breathtaking, and its presence beautifies the plot’s depressing situations. 2. Discuss two things with which you agree with your reviews. Discuss two things you disagree with. Raise the Red Lantern is a cultural immersive film, and the reviews are different from one another. In the review from about.com, the author was dissatisfied with the ending, stating, “it is too romantic for my sensibilities, and this sort of thing only happens in Victorian novels.” I agree with this, because I was dissatisfied with the ending. Although tragedy can cause insanity, her insanity did not seem likely with her personality. She was a strong-willed, determined, cold woman when she was put in strange situations. It would seem odd after her loveless marriage, her lack of emotion towards her family and friends, and her quick temper for her lost flute, to suddenly go insane after seeing a dead body of a woman she really was two-facing. I agree with James Berardinelli’s comment on Zhang’s superiority creating great looking films. Even though the plot is depressing, Zhang’s ability to create a beautiful small communal world makes me almost want to visit. The contrasting colors, vivid costumes, and exotic architecture make the film so aesthetically pleasing, and Zhang creates a beautiful world out of strange customs and servitude. These rich reds enhance the story. In Hal Hinson’s review, he states “Gong Li’s character is psychologically remained at a distance, and as a result the movie seems oddly vacant at its center. Thus, the movie never achieves momentum.” I disagree with this summation, because Gong Li’s job was to keep the audience distant. The audience is supposed to be emotional distant from the fourth wife to allow the awkwardness, isolation, and oddness of the entire situation to be felt. In a sense this vacancy is the momentum behind the movie, because the audience is hoping for happiness to fill the emptiness of our main character. However, happiness never fills a cold heart, and the movie ends sadly. The last item from the reviews I read which I disagree with was from Roger Ebert. He states the husband has an offstage presence in the film, but the husband does appear onstage from a distance and shadow. The audience is never given his identity, and his presence does hover over the characters. His comment seems to be misleading, because we do see the husband in the movie. 3. Discuss two of your favorite performances in the film. Our guide through this uneasy world was Gong Li, the fourth wife. As the leading actress, her performance in this film is very chilling. She plays a 19 year old slightly educated woman who is forced to marry an older richer man by her mother. Throughout the movie, she remains cold, distant, angry, and calculating towards her new household companions. Occasionally, she allows us to see a glimpse of inner peace when music is playing. (E.g. when she listens to the third wife singing or the first wife’s son playing the flute.) We are drawn into this story to begin with because of her performance. The opera singer, the third wife, delivers a fine performance as well. At first, she leads the audience to believe she is selfish and deceitful, but towards the end of the movie she transforms. After we learn of her adultery with the doctor, we see a humanistic woman longing for love, and she no longer seems selfish or deceitful. In the end, the audience is rooting for these wives to find happiness in this desperate situation, and the third wife found it. When she dies, our happiness dies with her. Also, her singing was so different and enchanting, and it helped make her character more appealing than the other wives. 4. Discuss the technical aspects of the movie. As I have discussed earlier, the classic three strip Technicolor process was used to create the hues of yellow, oranges, and brilliant reds which dominate the film. This technique is no longer used in American films, but it was the perfect choice for this film. Since color plays such as important symbolic role in this film, this process was perfect. It allowed the red to “pop out” against the grayer hues of the film. 5. Did your film win any awards or receive any nominations? Should it have won these awards? Raise the Red Lantern was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for best foreign language film, and it won lots of overseas awards for Best Film, Cinematography, and Best Actress. Unfortunately, I cannot have an opinion on its awards. I have not scene any of the other foreign films it was nominated with, but I do think this film was aesthetically beautiful and unlike anything I have seen. I do believe it deserved the awards it won, but it would be unfair of me to judge this film against the others in the best foreign film category if I have not seen the other films. 6. Discuss two parts where the film got to you emotionally. From the beginning, Zhang has you hooked. The opening scene sets up the entire film with its cold, unemotional Gong Li delivering her monologue. This scene was so chilling and sudden you have to continue watching. The fourth wife’s anger pulls you through this movie in an uneasy way, and this sequence was such an abrupt beginning and foreshadows how the film is going to go. Another scene which got to me emotionally was the boy playing the flute. When this scene occurs, the fourth wife is standing outside the doorway watching the first wife’s son play the flute. This scene gave me hope, because I wanted the fourth wife to maybe find happiness with this boy, because she certainly wasn’t happy with his father. This scene seems to be one of the few times she finds a moment of inner peace, and it was relieving to have this brief moment of balance in a film which is constantly unbalanced. 7. What would you grade this film? Watching a lot of foreign films, I would grade this film at an A. The color techniques itself is unlike anything I have ever seen before and aesthetically is better than the majority of American films. The film haunts us with these images and its coldness. The author from about.com states, “Raise the Red Lantern is one of those movies that kidnaps you to a foreign place and immerses you completely.” One cannot take their eyes away from this film even as disturbing as it gets at times, and it guides you through a culture we could never see so beautiful in any other way. 8. What did you learn about the culture from this film? Even though I knew of the subjection of women in China, it did not truly sink in till I watched this movie. Zhang makes this film much more realistic than most concubine films. This showed the jealousy, mistreatment, servitude, and women as objects rather than people. As a woman, the movie seems very believable, because I would react the same way as these women if I were them. It does fascinate me how only 100 years ago women in this country were treated this way, and this still continues in other countries today. Because of this film, I have a deeper appreciation for being an American woman in this era.
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