Raise the Red Lantern (1992)

Zhang Yimou’s masterpiece, Raise the Red Lantern, co-production of China-Taiwan-Hong Kong, offers a striking look at the life of Songlian, a young concubine in l920s China. The rebellious heroine is a university-educated girl, who is sent to the estate of a feudal nobleman to become his newest wife.

The relationship between Songlian and her predecessors–all of whom live on the premises–and the interaction between the women and their rigid patriarchal master are brilliantly played out. The four women are engaged in an intriguing power struggle that only one woman can–and will–survive.

Ni Zhen’s screenplay is based on Su Tong’s novel. Raise the Red Lantern provides an extraordinary view of gender, sexuality, loyalty, and female bonding in a historical context that bears some political relevance to present-day China.

As he demonstrated in his previous films, the equally accomplished Ju Dou and The Story of Qui Ju, Yimou is a master of striking visual composition and detailed psychological characterization. Yimou’s new epic movie, the Cannes Festival winner To Live, a chronicle of one family over four decades of social and political upheaval, is being released by Goldwyn this month.

This visually stunning, highly stylized movie is deliberately paced by standards of American movies. Gong Li, who has won a number of international acting awards and is China’s best-known actress renders a multi-shaded performance that powerfully registers the changing emotions of her character.

Raise the Red Lantern was nominated for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar and was cited for its distinguished cinematography by the L.A. Film Critics Association.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Language Film

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Cinematography Oscar was the Italian entry, “Mediterraneo.”