Saturday, July 4, 2009

Raise the Red Lantern

Gong Li was the reason why I watched
Raise the Red Lantern. She caught my attention in Memoirs of a Geisha so I wanted to watch more of her films. Again, Gong Li powerfully portraits her character in RTRL as Song Lian a young woman who gets married to a wealthy, old man. Song Lian is the fourth mistress or concubine of this wealthy man who the audience never gets familiar with. The director, Zhang Yimou, chose not to shoot close-ups of the husband which I thought was an excellent way to narrate the distance of the marriage and the two characters.

RTRL is filled with drama: hate, deception, backstabbing, jealousy, and more. Throughout the movie, I found myself rooting for Song Lian in her battle against the other mistresses (and servant) who fight for the favoritism of the husband. Zhang Yimou brings the audience behind the doors and walls of a family that is ran by unyielding traditions passed on by the previous generation. At times the traditions and the need to follow the traditions are absurd which makes you realize that the argument and disharmony too are absurd. Why can't everyone just live happily together? Or maybe they bring down the person who is causing all the drama--the husband. At the end, you realize that all this is just a vicious cycle. Zhang Yimou beautifully films this cycle as an exciting and visually luscious game.

As one of the Zhang Yimou's earlier film, I thought RTRL shows the development of his colorful style. As exemplified in Hero, Zhang Yimou uses single colors to tell stories. Each chapter in Hero had a different sweeping color: red, green, blue, and white. So too is used in RTRL. Throughout the film, red is used against a gray, somber backdrop. The red really stood out and makes the film extraordinary memorable.

One other great thing about the film is the acting of Gong Li. By now, I have thought of her as an actress who is verye often typecasted. In Memoirs, Curse of the Golden Flower, and 2046, Gong Li has always played a powerful, independent woman with much power and anger boiling under her. In most of RTRL, Gong Li is the same powerful actress but we do get a glimpse of her weakness at the beginning and the end of the film. I thought this was refreshing to see and it adds much more to Gong Li as an actress.

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