This is one of several movie suggestions written by students in the Chinese-Language Cinemas class of Winter 2019 (CHIN 3050/FILM 3350). For this “Playlist Project,” students looked for a film of interest not seen in class, watched and researched it, and wrote up their recommendation. More viewing suggestions will be posted each day leading up to the beginning of the new term.
Review written by David Choco Manco
The Cultural Revolution took place in China from 1966 to 1976. The objective of this was to unify the masses ideologically, and during this cultural movement many film directors were either re-educated or killed by the government. This Cultural Revolution triggered the 5th Generation Chinese film movement. The new directors of the 5th Generation were the first directors that trained at universities such as the Beijing Film Academy. Many film makers in this generation had been part of the Red Guard and were influenced by the communist government (Chua, Chua & Yimou, 1991). The most relevant filmmaker of this generation is Zhang Yimou, who has been criticized for portraying real social life in China during in Communist times (Chua, Chua & Yimou, 1991). Consequently, the Chinese government did not permit him to release some of his movies in China. One of his most popular films is Raise the Red Lantern. This film is interesting to watch because it portrays the lives of people before the Cultural Revolution and communism. It shows gender inequality and the oppression of women before the Communist Revolution, while the communist philosophy of equality values everyone equally, giving more individuality to women. Also, since the 5th Generation filmmakers were freer to tell stories than those during the Cultural Revolution, they could express themselves more by showing the real life in China and the people’s need to survive through the economic crisis of the Cultural Revolution and previous years.
Zhang Yimou demonstrates in his film Raise the Red Lantern that tradition is the destroyer of equality by showing four women dependent on a man. According to John Young’s review, Zhang tries to represent in an indirect way the Chinese iconoclasm that started on May the Fourth of 1919 with the position, “Down with Confucius and Sons” (1993). This Chinese iconoclasm began to support many women who could not rebel against the injustices that they were suffering (Young, 1993). Zhang shows in the movie four women that are married to a man named Master Chen. without the gender equality offered by the communist government, Chinese women would live a difficult life, not being respected or treated equally, forcing them to depend on their husbands. For example, the film shows the tradition whereby mistresses receive good treatment in the film, if Master Chen chooses them. For example, Yimou shows that the mistresses receive good treatment only if Master Chen chooses them. Consequently, all the mistresses betray each other in many ways in order to keep favour such as the privilege to choose their favourite food and the foot massage. This film also shows another example of inequality, reflecting the little value men placed in women’s lives. For example, many concubines were killed if they showed control over their own bodies (Young, 1993). For example, in the film Raise the Red Lantern, the third mistress is hanged because she commits “adultery” with the family doctor (Young, 1993). She commits this adultery because she is tired of being a mistress. In this scene, Zhang tries to promote the prohibition of the polygamy that existed before the Communist Revolution.
One of the principles that communism highlights is equality. As a result, Chinese citizens start to promote the independence of women. Also, many filmmakers of the 5th Generation, who grew up under the communist system, started to promote equality in China through their films. According to Ning (1990), one of the main goals of the Directors of the 5th Generation was to create a conflict between ideological orthodoxy and basic human needs (Ning, 1990). Zhang confirms this by showing in the Raise the Red Lantern the women’s desires for independence from men and how this is affected by the traditions of that family. For example, Songlian, the fourth mistress, shows her independence with rebellious behavior when she prefers to travel to her new master’s household on foot instead of taking the bridal sedan-chair that he had offered to her; also, she shows this independence by being a women who has studied at university. However, when she meets the other mistresses, she realizes that they are completely dependent on Master Chen and they will do anything to be his favorite. This is shown through betrayals, such as when the second mistress uses witchcraft against the fourth mistress in order to get rid of her. Eventually, Songlian’s individuality is destroyed by Master Chen’s traditional privileges, even though she knows that the rules and traditional customs are degrading and debilitating.
Many directors in this movement wanted to communicate the concerns of people after the Cultural Revolution. These concerns were about the economic crisis of China that resulted from constant conflicts of the communist party (Ning,1990). In 1980, one of the main goals of the directors was to show these effects (Ning,1990). Raise the Red Lantern is a good example of the message that the 5th Generation directors wanted to transmit. The film made by Zhang Yimou not only highlights the principal objectives of the communist government such as equality and independence but also it shows the real life of Chinese people after the conflicts. Zhang highlights the objectives of communism by showing gender inequality. He also portrays the real lives of Chinese citizens by showing the actions that some women took to survive the economic crisis.
Chua, Lawrence, Chua, Larry, and Yimou, Zhang. “Zhang Yimou.” BOMB 35 (1991): 28-30. Web. Accessed March 28 2019.
Ning, Ma, and Robert Sklar. “NEW CHINESE CINEMA: A CRITICAL ACCOUNT OF THE FIFTH GENERATION.” Cinéaste 17.3 (1990): 32-35. Web. Accessed March 30 2019.
Young, John. “Film Reviews — Raise the Red Lantern Directed by Zhang Yimou / The Story of Qui Ju Directed by Zhang Yimou.” The American Historical Review 98.4 (1993): 1158. Web. Accessed March 28 2019.