Saturday, 22 December 2012

Raise the Red Lantern (1991) - ★★★★★

Director: Yimou Zhang
Writers: Ni Zhen (screenplay), Su Tong (novel, "Wives and Concubines")
Stars: Li Gong, Saife He, Cuifen Cao, Lin Kong

Based on the novel "Wives and Concubines" by Su Tong, Raise the Red Lantern is an absolutely riveting film that delves into the world of four women married to the same man. This movie had me hooked from the very first scene and didn't let go. If you didn't know anything about the lives of concubines years ago in China, then this film will most likely clear up most questions. It displays the competitive, betraying, and luxurious world of four very interesting women.

When the fourth mistress (Li Gong) arrives, the lives of these women are changed forever. There is an immediate spark of competitiveness between herself and the third mistress (Saife He); a deceiving friendship with the second mistress (Cuifin Cao); and mutual disinterest with the first mistress. All of the scheming eventually leads to the true personalities of these characters being revealed, which turns out to be both shocking and fascinating.

I have to say that after seeing this film, Li Gong would have to be one of the greatest actresses I've ever seen, and my absolute favorite from Asia. Film after film she gives stunning performances with an array of different characters; her role as 'The Fourth Mistress' is no exception. Her monologue in the very first scene is such a masterpiece of acting and cinema. Throughout the film we see her fall, grow, evolve and descend. She is such a thrill to watch on screen.

The supporting actresses were terrific also, with Cuifin Cao playing a brilliantly intelligent 'Second Mistress.' Her character intrigued me greatly, for her motives, past, and cleverness was something I wished to explore further. The same goes with Saife He's 'Third Mistress,' who was a charismatic, attention seeking opera singer. One other performance I feel should not go unsung is Lin Kong's brilliant performance as the uneducated yet scheming servant to the Fourth Mistress. If anything, I felt most for her, which is an achievement that the other actresses did not evoke out of me as much.

It is important to note that the cinematography in this is breathtaking at points, then tedious in others. I can't stress enough how beautiful each shot of the mansion was, and how incredible the set and costume design was. However, there were so many establishing shots of the mansion, and the mistresses, where nothing happened. I think at least 15 minutes of the film must have been camera shots of the scenery, which to me felt unnecessary. It did manage to suck me into their world, where what happens outside of the walls is a mystery to the women and us all.

With that being said, Raise the Red Lantern is a masterpiece by Yimou Zhang. This movie invests you into the lives of these women, and provokes you to think of their motives, their past, their thoughts and their feelings. Every scene is a work of art in its way, and there is a great use of symbolism in many scenes. This film may bore some people, but for me, it was so interesting that I saw it twice in a row.

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