Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
Reviewed on 2009 August 10
Very painful but cinematographically beautiful story of a nineteen-year-old girl who becomes the fourth wife of a wealthy Chinese landowner in the 1920s, and the interactions with the other wives in her new gilded cage.
Songlian (Gong Li) has to abandon her hopes of going to the university when her father dies. She takes the only path she sees as available to her as a woman with no money or education: she becomes the concubine of a rich and powerful man (Jingwu Ma), seen usually in obscure shots throughout the movie and only referred to as “Master”. Songlian has to get used to the rules of her new home, and the competition from both Zhuoyan the Second Wife (Cuifen Cao), and the temperamental Meishan (Saifei He), Third Wife and an opera-singing diva.
What’s interesting is the master of the house is really just a prop. The real story is these woman fighting over him — or more to the point, fighting over the perks of being his chosen partner for the night — like a bunch of Siamese cats over the last leaf of catnip. Despite the fine rooms, pretty silk gowns and initially genteel veneer, life here is vicious and incredibly empty. This is not a happy movie but it’s a different kind of chick flick, and one that I enjoyed a lot. It’s not for everyone but if it’s your thing, you’ll probably go buy the DVD like I did.
Three chocolate morsels.