Beyond The Red Lantern

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Thematically, the foot massage is a symbol of power — it is a privilege enjoyed by the woman whom the master chooses to spend the night with. The enticing and haunting beat of tiny pebbles echoes throughout the house each evening as the woman whose soles are being beaten luxuriates in the sensation. She knows the master favours hers and basks in the sense of power and attention. The woman is paradoxically the mechanism by which the man achieves phallic wholeness, from and through which he derives pleasure; yet at the same time renouncing it. Fetishism is commonly viewed as being derived from the castration complex, in which the fear of castration is repressed and displaced by fixating on some object; and in the case of Raise the Red Lantern , the foot massage is one form of fetish.

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The wives, of course, are another form of fetish — the more wives the master has, the greater the affirmation of his maleness. She is eventually executed, an ultimate form of castration In previous generations within the Chen household it was hinted that two women were murdered for cheating on their husbands.

The flute in Chinese culture symbolises erudition and only men played the flute. She has unwittingly inherited the flute from her father, but it is quickly wrested from her, emasculating her, reducing her to the level of the less educated wives. Between the 10th and 20th centuries, foot binding was part of the class dynamic. Foot binding also ensured that women would take smaller, daintier steps, attaining a more graceful gait.

Zhang ingeniously reinscribes and critiques the Chinese tradition of foot binding by replacing it with the foot massage. The film highlights that Chinese traditions and rituals are in dire need of re-evaluation; there is no investigation of knowledge or cultivation of characters advocated by Confucius — merely an oppressive system of rules. The film focuses on a family, but its fate also extends to a country and civilisation gone awry. The women in Raise the Red Lantern represent the Chinese people who are oppressed by an authoritarian government that allows no freedom of expression — surely the film makes obvious but coded reference to the Tiananmen Square Massacre that occurred in The many students murdered at the square are represented by the cruel execution of Third Mistress.

It is no wonder that Raise the Red Lantern was banned in China when it was released in and was never screened in cinemas. Ironically, lanterns provide illumination, and therefore, are supposed to enlighten, as does Confucianism. Endnotes Judith A. Lee, p. Set in the s, the film tells the story of a young woman who becomes one of the concubines of a wealthy man during the Warlord Era. It is noted for its opulent visuals and sumptuous use of colours.

Although the screenplay was approved by Chinese censors , [2] the final version of the film was banned in China for a period. Arriving at the palatial abode, she is at first treated like royalty, receiving sensuous foot massages and brightly lit red lanterns, as well as a visit from her husband, Master Chen Ma Jingwu , the master of the house, whose face is never clearly shown.

Songlian soon discovers, however, that not all the concubines in the household receive the same luxurious treatment. In fact, the master decides on a daily basis the concubine with whom he will spend the night; whomever he chooses gets her lanterns lit, receives the foot massage, gets her choice of menu items at mealtime, and gets the most attention and respect from the servants. Pitted in constant competition against each other, the three concubines are continually vying for their husband's attention and affections.

It is this hierarchical competition, and the artificiality of human relations within the compound, that projects the film's strongest critique. Having borne a son decades earlier, she seems resigned to live out her life as forgotten, always passed over in favor of the younger concubines. As time passes, though, Songlian learns that it is really Zhuoyun, the Second Mistress, who is not to be trusted; she is subsequently described as having the face of the Buddha, yet possessing the heart of a scorpion.

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Songlian feigns pregnancy, attempting to garner the majority of the master's time and, at the same time, attempting to become actually pregnant. Zhuoyun summons the family physician, feigning concern for Songlian's "pregnancy".

Doctor Gao Gao-yisheng, Cui Zhigang , who is secretly having an illicit affair with Third Mistress Meishan, examines Songlian and determines the pregnancy to be a sham. Infuriated, the master orders Songlian's lanterns covered with thick black canvas bags indefinitely. Blaming the sequence of events on Yan'er, Songlian reveals to the house that Yan'er's room is filled with lit red lanterns, showing that Yan'er dreams of becoming a mistress instead of a lowly servant; it is suggested earlier that Yan'er is in love with the master and has even slept with him in the Fourth Mistress' bed.

Yan'er is punished by having the lanterns burned while she kneels in the snow, watching as they smolder. In an act of defiance, Yan'er refuses to humble herself or apologize, and thus remains kneeling in the snow throughout the night until she collapses. Yan'er falls sick and ultimately dies after being taken to the hospital.

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One of the servants tells Songlian that her former maid died with her mistress's name on her lips. Songlian, who had briefly attended university before the passing of her father and being forced into marriage, comes to the conclusion that she is happier in solitude; she eventually sees the competition between the concubines as a useless endeavor, as each woman is merely a "robe" that the master may wear and discard at his discretion. As Songlian retreats further into her solitude, she begins speaking of suicide; she reasons that dying is a better fate than being a concubine in the Chen household.

On her twentieth birthday, severely intoxicated and despondent over her bitter fate, Songlian inadvertently blurts out the details of the love affair between Meishan and Doctor Gao to Zhuoyun, who later catches the adulterous couple together. Following the old customs and traditions, Meishan is dragged to a lone room also known as the room of death earlier on on the roof of the estate and is hanged to death by the master's servants.

Songlian, already in agony due to the fruitlessness of her life, witnesses the entire episode and is emotionally traumatized. The following summer, after the Master's marriage to yet another concubine, Songlian is shown wandering the compound in her old schoolgirl clothes, having gone completely insane. ERA's first release received similar attention [12] but the second digitally remastered edition has been more warmly received with DVD Times stating that "It's a film that really needs a Criterion edition with a new print or a full restoration, but in the absence of any likelihood of that, this Era Hong Kong edition is about as good as you could hope for.

It is easily the best digital representation of this film currently available.

Red Lantern

A new MGM release in has also received some positive feedback. Described as "one of the landmark films of the s" by Jonathan Crow of AllMovie , [16] where it received 5 stars, since its release Raise the Red Lantern has been very well received. James Berardinelli named it his 7th best film of the s. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post stated that "the story never amounts to much more than a rather tepid Chinese rendition of "The Women. The film has also been praised for its artistic merit. Desson Howe of The Washington Post stated that "In purely aesthetic terms, "Raise the Red Lantern" is breathtaking" [22] and James Berardinelli stated that "the appeal to the eye only heightens the movie's emotional power".

John Hartl of Film. The film has been interpreted by some critics as a criticism of contemporary China, although Zhang Yimou himself has denied this. James Berardinelli made a similar analogy in his review where he stated that "Songlian is the individual, the master is the government, and the customs of the house are the laws of the country.

It's an archaic system that rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who violate them. Chinese journalist and activist Dai Qing has said that the film, along with many of Zhang Yimou's earlier works, caters too much to Western taste; "this kind of film is really shot for the casual pleasures of foreigners".

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The film's popularity has also been attributed to a resurgence in Chinese tourism after the government response to the Tiananmen Square Protests of due to its use of exotic locations. Raise the Red Lantern was one of the films with most appearances on 's year-end lists, appearing on 36 lists. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

This article is about the Chinese film.

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For other uses, see Red Lantern. Zhao Jiping. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 6 August TV Guide. Retrieved Archived from the original on Originally banned in China. Frances K. Gateward, Yimou Zhang, Univ.

Press of Mississippi, , p. Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press.

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DVD Times. The English subtitles contain an inordinate amount of typos and grammatical inaccuracies. Retrieved 7 August