Red Sorghum (1987)
Most directors' debuts are small, rough-edged works--sketches of the fully realized films to come. Zhang Yimou isn't most directors. Before the Chinese film maestro made the lush costumed psychodrama Raise the Red Lantern, the multi-decade family history To Live, or the intimate, acutely observed Not One Less, he warmed up by packing all those those approaches and more into one vast, polished, thundering epic, Red Sorghum. Gong Li is a young bride married off to a leprous sorghum-winery owner in the countryside. She takes a lover; the winery changes hands; fortunes rise and fall in rich, gorgeous color. Then the Japanese invade. Then the peasants fight back. And so on, in an hour and a half of crescendo upon crescendo, beauty upon beauty, tragedy upon tragedy--till, in the middle of the fifth or sixth climax, Zhang just goes ahead and throws in a full solar eclipse. Because he can.