Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Feminist Film, Marriage Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 13, 1992 (USA)  |   Run Time - 122 min.  |   Countries - China, Hong Kong, Taiwan  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Jonathan Crow

Visually astonishing and dramatically devastating, Raise the Red Lantern is both the most finely realized film of director Zhang Yimou's celebrated career and one of the landmark films of the 1990s. Like Zhang's previous Ju Dou (1990), Lantern is a damning portrait of women at the mercy of a rigid patriarchal power structure. Zhang's voluptuous visual style accentuates Songlian's plight, as the film's static camera echoes the stagnancy of the household's feudal traditions and elaborate rituals. The camera's framing, which seems to incarcerate the characters, adds to the household's rancid, claustrophobic atmosphere. Coming only a few years after the bloody massacre at Tiananmen Square, the film could be read as an (oblique) critique of contemporary China, as the perpetual struggle for power that precludes any unity among the wives provides a depressingly apt metaphor for the fragmented civil society of post-Cultural Revolution China. Though banned in both China and in Taiwan, Raise the Red Lantern received armfuls of international awards and a nomination for an Academy Award, thus cementing Zhang's status as a leading figure in world cinema and reaffirming the vibrancy of Chinese cinema.