I’ve mentioned many times before that studying film has its perks in that you stumble across incredible films you never would ordinarily. I discovered Double Indemnity, Requiem for a Dream and City of God through these means; three films which I now hold in extremely high regard. And, if you hadn’t already guessed, it’s happened again, with Yimou Zhang’s Raise the Red Lantern.
The gist of the film is that a 19-year-old girl marries a wealthy lord and becomes his ‘fourth mistress’. And each day, the master must pick one of his four wives to spend the night with, and red lanterns are raised above the chosen mistress’s house. That’s it, that’s the whole plotline. Not exactly ground-breaking, right?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect too much going in. A film about a wealthy man with… Four wives? I like films with relatable, sympathetic characters, and I couldn’t possibly see where that could be found in such a narrative. But, I found it. I found it in spades. Raise the Red Lantern drew you in, told you who the nice characters were and that was that. Except that wasn’t that. That was completely turned on its head and you end up willing the characters you once liked to meet a grisly end. Quite sinister, really.
What I found most interesting about this film is the way that the man, who was clearly the antagonist of the whole situation, never once got punished. Even though he was the one basically playing these four women off against each other, he was the only one who survived unscathed, physically and psychologically. Instead, the four wives took their frustrations out on each other, leaving one dead, one psychologically damaged and another with a… minor ear injury. Ahh, gender roles. Never a dull moment.
I also have to mention the visuals throughout. Although the cinematography was very simple, it was so powerful. We’re presented with these beautiful houses, one for each mistress, but with the combination of grey colouring and high angle shots, they’re made to look like prisons, which is probably exactly how each mistress, especially the fourth, feels about their situation.
Anyway, I’ll stop here, before I enter into a full-on rant about visuals. But basically, this is what I love about studying film. You’re forever uncovering something that you never knew you’d enjoy. You’re forever in screenings for films you never knew existed, but now you couldn’t live without. And stumbling across films like this makes studying for your degree all the less daunting, because it just feels like you’ve sat down with a bunch of friends and watched an awesome movie. What better way to live out your uni years?