Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List.
Raise the Red Lantern aka ‘大红灯笼高高挂’
dir. Zhang Yimou (1991) scr. Su Tong & Ni Zhen cin. Zhao Fei with Gong Li, Ma Jing-Wu, He Saifei, Cao Cui-Fen
In 100 words: Brilliantly opens with a close-up of its heroine’s face, bathed in a golden light, completely emptied out, and giving a Shakespearean monologue about a woman’s fate, Zhang Yimou’s landmark film explores the lives of women, fighting for the attention of a physically invisible but somehow omnipotent being. Lantern is a forceful indictment of patriarchal society, institutionally imposed sexism, and a biting study of human cruelty. Yimou’s gorgeous symmetrical frames, warm colors, and angular designs are rich in semiotics that accumulate power, while the editing ascribe meaning to the images’ juxtapositions, until the stunning conclusion. Gong Li will haunt you forever.
Other Movies for Context: Zhang Yimou was a great chronicler of women in China, and have made some incredible films, including Ju Dou (1990), which tackled similar ground as Red Lantern when it comes to women under stifling patriarchal structures and Not One Less (1999), my personal favorite from his oeuvre. Chen Kaige, another Chinese director from the same era had made grounds internationally with sensational political allegories, including Yellow Earth (1984) and Farewell my Concubine (1993), a film that just missed the Top 100.