Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)

I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10  

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“Big Fish & Begonia” Review

Big Fish & Begonia PosterBig Fish & Begonia (2016)

This fantastical tale is about Chun, a girl who is a member of a tribe of mythical beings (“neither humans nor gods, but others”) living underwater, capable of controlling tides and knowing the secrets of nature. As part of her rite of passage, Chun turns into a dolphin to visit the human world. There, Chun makes a contact with a boy who loses his life “because of her”, and Chun vows to sacrifice a part of her life for him, seeking help to turn the boy into a fish which must grow big enough for his later transformation. The story sounds a bit complex; it requires certain open-mindedness; and the layering is quite deep. However, with the stunning visuals (better seen on the widest possible screen), the simplicity of the main theme is quite evident and heart-warming. The meticulously-constructed scenery, and the relatable themes of the cycle of life, and the importance of friendship and of not losing hope, all make this animation more than worth your time. Moreover, “Big Fish & Begonia” has already done extremely well at the Chinese box office, and, being a huge leap forward for the Chinese animation industry, it may be a contender in the next Oscar season.

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