Raise The Red Lantern
Director Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li had earned a bit of critical praise for their previous collaborations, in the riveting 1987 Red Sorghum and the luxuriant 1991 Ju Dou, but it was 1992's Raise the Red Lantern that practically announced their endeavor to forge a new kind of political Chinese women's cinema over the first half of the 1990s. Songlian (Gong) is the fourth and youngest wife to fiftysomething Chen (Ma Jingwu) in 1920s feudal northern China. The title refers to the signal servants used to inform a wife whose bedchambers Chen would be sharing that evening, a very public notice in a very small domestic unit that brings with it power struggles between the wives-which, in turn, thematically explores Chinese gender relationships. Like his next three movies with Gong-1992's The Story of Qiu Ju, 1994's heartbreaking To Live, and 1995's Shanghai Triad-Zhang's gift isn't merely for critiquing the present by melodramatically exploring the past, but also for staging striking visual compositions that shape his movie's emotional universes. And in Red Lantern, Zhang's dramatic and visual storytelling combine to yield an almost formalist beauty and a devastating psychology.