Raising the Red Lantern⏐Zhang Yimou (Movie Analysis)

October 12th, 2016

Raising the Red Lantern


This film represents lonliness in a prominent way. Songlein who is the protagonist; is a 19-year-old girl marrying a rich man along side 3 other wives, who has to abide by the family rules. This film was mainly about the classical culture of Asian countries throughout the 1920s. The director Yimou Zhang wanted to convey the story through a different aspect not only through story telling but also set design. For one the phonograph was used deliberately as a new item throughout main scenes including conflict within the scene.  Also the values and growth of the cultural aspect explores more with mis en scene and character development rather than cinematography. Yimou Zhang wanted to make this a film about affinity having deeper meaning than the whole intention of just the dialogue stating the results, which in fact was not a visceral experience although the composition of each shot was analyzed and static for the most of the film. The set design was made to have a feeling of being claustrophobic. The castle in the film although large at hand was still dull and bland. The women do not have any choice on what they can or cannot due for a greater purpose of not over acting and keeping order within the household. Here are a couple prominent uses of restrictions within the wives. For my first contention the wives where not able to get the royalities the one with the Red Lantern would get, because once the Red Lantern is sparked on a specific household that wife is able to pick the food for breakfast, be caressed by her husband, and gets full service from the maids within the structure. Another use of restrictions in the film is that the wives where not able to have luxuries of independence such as playing a flute. The husband was overtook with jealousy of Songlein having a flute from another suiter therefore that compelled him to have it burnt. Songlein had stated that it was from her father, but he’s still a man and the emperor did not have a bit of remorse. If a wife cheated as well they would be hanged much like the 3rd sister in the film who cheated on the emperor with the town doctor. Everyone is equal except the heirchy who is the emporer.


Here are a couple aspects of cinematography and blocking of a scene. Through out the film I saw uses of Shallow Depth of field on long lenses as well as wide establishing shots of the houses exterior and interior. Lines where used within in the frame other than using just the rule of thirds. Tonal separation using color such as blue for the outside representing death and a jail type environment and Red such as the lantern for use of safety. The wardrobe for the main character Songlein and third sister was particularly different than the rest of the girls. They wore vibrant colors such as red and white pearlescent hues to separate from the background. While the other two sisters wore green and darker shades to blend in with the environment. Rhythm and movement helped drive the story forward with little uses of dolly push ins of the environment and particular scenes such as the first encounter at the dinner table when the sisters introduced themselves. All the action was mostly static and the story didn’t have spectacle shots, but within the acting of the characters, the static shots helped evoke emotion for instance when Songlein married her husband she new her destiny was sealed within that castle. A girl is meant to marry a rich man, but their lives where miserable. We stayed on that static shot for the opening for around a minute with no dialogue except for the wild track on the side. I noticed also there where more warm mid tones and highlights at the beginning of the film, but for the second half Yimou Zhang decided to make the rest of the film cold with cool tones as tragedy/despair progressed. The first example the 3rd sister is wearing red while singing as her form of happiness and independence this is a great use that the director used for tonal separation. Another example shows all the lanterns lit to completely change the feel of the environment. The director also started the film in the fall time, but towards the end it finishes on winter. Maybe coincidental, but I believe this was on purpose. The seasons act as emotion. This article in this link by the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/climate-health_n_4568505.html provides research done on climate change affecting human emotion.  The film was well thought out and in my opinion Yimou Zhang is considered a film auteur.

Written by: Adam Gharib