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220 of 222 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2007
There is no need for me to praise the movie. It's one of the best movies ever made. I am here to clarify some information so that others won't be too confused.
Last year (January 2006) Razor Digital Entertainment released the DVD version of Raise the Red Lantern, with the poorest quality one can imagine: red isn't red (Raise the Jack-o'-Lantern), black isn't black, horrific subtitles, cropped screen, etc. It wasn't a restoration of a great film, but a decomposition.
This year (July 2007) MGM World Films released the DVD, and this time, I can say the problems are fixed. This is a much much better version. (Except the subtitles. I didn't look at them this time so I didn't pay attention to see if there are many mistakes)

Some 1-star reviews posted here in Amazon were referring to the 2006 DVD quality, not the movie. Some reviews said "excellent movie but do not buy the DVD" and that's because they were talking about the 2006 DVD. Now the 2007 DVD is out, you know which version to buy.
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119 of 126 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2004
If there were any fairness in Hollywood, Gong Li would have won the Academy Award for Best Actress for any one of her many movies. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, she is an exquisite actress of the first order. The opening scene, a close-up of her face as she resigns herself to her nihilistic future, will convince anyone of this fact. Raise the Red Lantern is a thinking, engrossing movie that dispenses with special effects and overwhelming scores and concentrates on story and acting. Zhang Yimou is famous for delivering biting criticism of the oppressive, delusional aspects of Chinese society. Raise the Red Lantern shows one very strong, independent woman's attempt to overcome thousands of years of historic oppression in early 20th ca China. Women are collectables for rich men, mere objects of possession. The horrific backstabbing and betrayal is among the women themselves as they vie for most-desired-object status. When the human need for dignity and respect surface, the repercussions are catastrophic.
The plot has been well documented, although this is one of those movies where the less you know going in the better. Suffice to say the first thing you'll want to do once the movie is over is to watch it again.
It is disappointing to see a number of very mediocre movies receiving 4 and 5 stars simply because they shun the standard Hollywood formula, as if mainstream automatically equals bad and independent automatically equals good. The mediocrity of these films becomes apparent when compared to indy films of the highest caliber, such as Raise the Red Lantern. Highly, highly recommended.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2002
Beyond being the story of a woman who decides to become the 4th wife of a rich man, this film also foreshadows the Communist regime to come. This film is full of metaphors. Each wife symbolizes something that the Chinese people gave up in order to obtain the economic equality promised by communism. The first wife symbolizes China's history and traditions, the second wife with her cut-throat, backstabbing ways symbolizes personal integrity, the third wife who gave up her opera career symbolizes the art community that became a sterile machine for turning out Communist propaganda, the fourth wife who gave up her university studies represents the loss of intellectual freedom and progress under Mao who was well-known for his hatred of intellectuals, and the fifth wife who has no story represents the future of the Chinese people. What will become of her? This question is left unanswered. The husband represents the Chinese communist government, micromanaging it's citizens and even forcing them to live in compounds. The wives never know from one day to the next which wife will be favored and given power over the household, just as it was with the revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries. This is a wonderful film with so many layers, you can watch it again and again and see new things each time. Highly recommended.
2/26/06 - I just got the DVD version and I must say that it is shockingly bad. The colors are awful and the picture has all those white specks and streaks on it. The subtitles are the worst. They were completely redone for the dvd and wow they are just pitiful. Every other line has some kind of grammatical/spelling or punctuation error. Sometimes the mistakes are unintentionally funny "Master, I want to bare your son!" The use of trendy phrases - "she just gives me attitude" - "what is up with you?!" - "Get real!" - literally made me wince. A terrible injustice to a wonderful film.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most extraordinarily beautiful movies I have ever seen. The sets are exquisite tableaux carefully arranged, decorated and framed, and then shot from attractive angles. The scene as they drag the third mistress, kicking and screaming to the tower of death, with the snow falling so peacefully onto the rooftops was chilling in its effect. The startling blaze of color, light and detail within the houses set against the drab simplicity of the courtyards, continually provided a contrast between life within the protection and at the favor of the master, and life without. This dichotomy is symbolized in the vibrant red lamps and the somber blue hue of the lamps when they are covered. In this manner, the mistresses are controlled. I was also struck by the sonorous beauty of the accompanying Chinese music.

But more compelling than the beauty of the film is the story Director Zhang Yimou tells, a tale of paternity and imperious privilege set in early twentieth century China. He begins with the newly arrived fourth mistress, 19-year-old Songlian, a university student who, because of the death of her father, is forced to quit school. She chooses to marry a man of wealth. She is warned by her stepmother that she will be a concubine. She replies, isn't that our fate? Her cynicism and then her robust energy in seeking her ascendancy over the other sisters engages us and we identify with her struggle.

What is extraordinary about Zhang's direction is how easily and naturally the personalities of the characters are revealed. The first mistress ("big sister") is too old to be of any sexual interest to the master, yet she is the mother of the eldest son. The second mistress, who has given the master only a daughter, still dreams of having a son. Her devious schemes and plots are hidden by smiles and fake good will toward her sisters. The third mistress, an opera singer still vibrant and beautiful (in a fascinating performance by the intriguing Caifei He), uses her allure in vying for the master's attention. Songlian, in spite of herself, finds herself caught up in the competition with the others.

Gong Li, who plays Songlian, is very beautiful with a strength of character that one quite naturally admires. She has the gift, as does, for example, Julia Roberts, of being able to express a wide range of emotion with just a glance of her very expressive face.

Serving as a foil to the mistresses, and perhaps as the most poignant victim of the concubine system, is the servant girl Yan'er, played with a compelling veracity by Kong Lin. She is occasionally (how shall I say this for Amazon?) "touched," to use Songlian's term, by the master, and so she dreamed of being the fourth mistress. But when the fourth mistress arrives, her dreams are shattered, and in her jealousy she hates Songlian and plots against her. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when Songlian, thinking Yan'er has stolen her flute, forces open the servant girl's room and finds it flooded with.... Well, you should see.

Note well that the master is only hazily observed. He is a personage, a man of wealth. That is enough to know about him. He is as interchangeable as the harem masters on a beach of elephant seals. But because he has wealth, he can engage concubines who must compete with one another through him to find their station in life. One gets a sense of what it might be like in the harem system practiced by gorillas or the sheiks and warlords of old. One pleases the master not because one loves the master (although one does of course because humans tend to love their masters) but because in pleasing the master one rises above the others. Thus the triumphant call, "Light the lanterns in the third house!"

Most people no doubt lament the life of the mistresses. Yet women in poor places may wish such a life upon themselves. But concubines are just prostitutes, really, one might say, trapped by a system of male privilege. But I would remind those who see only that, that for every wife the "master" has, that is one wife another man will not have. The system does NOT favor males. It favors wealth and privilege. In such a system there are many men without wives, fomenting unrest, which is one reason modern states forbid polygamy. What does a man do with the capital he accumulates or inherits? If the system allows, he spends it on women and the assurance of his paternity. And why is that possible? Because many women--Songlian is our example--would rather be the fourth wife of a rich man than the first and only wife of a poor man. Many women would rather be used by a man of wealth than rule the household of a nerd. This is the way humans are, and any sexist interpretation of this movie misses this truth.

The real horror depicted here, though, is in the brutality used to maintain the system, not in the polygamy itself. The women who follow the rules and beget the master's children, especially if they are sons, enjoy a pampered and secure existence Those who do not are dealt with severely, branded as mad, or even murdered. Note the similar experience of the wives of Henry VIII, for example, within the English system of serial monogamy.

This is a great movie, like a timeless novel fully realized, directed by a visual genius, from a script of great psychological power. Don't miss this one. It's one of the best ever made.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2001
"Raise the Red Lantern" offers us a fascinating look at life in early 20th-century China. It tells us the story of Songlian (Gong Li in her best role to date), 19 years old, harassed by her mother to leave college and marry after her father's death leaves the family impoverished. If she has to marry, she reasons, she might as well marry a rich man, and heedless of her mother's warnings that she will become little better than a concubine in a rich man's house (or, who knows, perhaps to spite her mother for forcing her to leave school), she becomes the fourth wife of a wealthy businessman.

From the start, everything goes wrong. Even her status in the household as fourth wife is ominous (the number four is considered unlucky in Chinese); she is an independent maverick in a place where she is expected to conform, and she finds herself trapped by the "customs of the house" which must be rigidly adhered to at all times. With nothing to do to occupy their time, the wives spend their days scheming against each other; the first wife, old and no longer attractive, at least has the status of being the mother of the oldest son; the second wife, jealous of the younger women, plots at their destruction, and the third wife fights against the constraints of her existence by taking the disastrous step of an extramarital affair.

Songlian is no match for the forces arrayed against her in this menage; when she tries to assert her place by falsifying a pregnancy and her ruse is discovered, she is relegated to a state of perpetual disgrace. Shunned by the master of the house and held in contempt by everyone else, ignored even on her birthday, she retaliates by getting drunk and blurting out the secret of the third wife's liaison. The "customs of the house" demand the ultimate punishment, and the third wife meets the fate which other adulterous wives in the family have met before her. Songlian is left to go slowly and inexorably insane in this exquisite prison while the master of the house takes yet another wife, this one even younger than she is.

Gong Li is incredible as Songlian; she is so stunningly beautiful and such a great actress that she dominates every scene she is in. The film moves slowly but it's never boring, and although it's shot almost entirely within the confines of the house, the complexities of the building underscore the complexities of the relationship to the master and to each other that the wives are trapped in. Zhang Yimou has directed other fine films, but Red Lantern is his masterpiece.

Judy Lind
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2002
This outstanding tale set in 1920's is a breakthrough for modern cinema, and completely dispels the myth that foreign films are boring and pretentious. The story is about a young girl called Songliang (Gong Li) who leaves university after money dries up following her father's death and she becomes a concubine. She becomes just one mistress in a long lin that has passed through the family. Entering as the fourth mistress, her other 'sisters' are not so willing to accept her and its these factions that form that are the real fascination.
'Raise The Red Lantern' is a movie about power, as the mistresses try to gain their master's affection over one another, although the ultimate goal is to bear a male heir to ensure that their position is truly safe. Interwoven into this are subplots involving the servants and questions about whether allegiance and duty should come before love and the quest for happiness. It's a remarkably restrained movie, with the superb cast refusing to court our sympathy even in the most distressing of scenes. What is spectacular about this though, is that the characters are all distinctly human in that even ther heroine is flawed. This marks it out as a refreshing piece of cinema compared to the glitz of other popular movies.
The strength of the women and the individual is another thing which is stressed. Whilst the women struggle for power over one another, it is the master who has the real power. Also interesting is the way in which the movie is filmed, as several times the women appear to be encaged in red lanterns, the symbol of who the master has chosen to stay with that night.
This is a movie to treasure, a definite modern classic.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2001
Zhang Yimou's "Raise the Red Lantern" is an extraordinary achievement. Like Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" alerting the cinematic world to the rising of the French New Wave, Yimou's film serves as fair warning to all that the best films in the world are now coming out of Asia.
No, I'm not overstating it.
In 1920s China, 19-year-old Songlian (Gong Li) is sent to the home of a feudal nobleman to become his fourth wife. While the servants treat her as a princess, it doesn't take Songlian long to realize that she is trapped in a gilded cage and that her life, and the lives of all around her, now revolve around the whims of one very selfish man.
Songlian dreams of what her life could have been had she been allowed to finish her education. The third wife dreams of what her life could have been had marriage not ended her opera career. The second wife dreams of what her life could have been had she been able to give the Master a son. And the female servants dream of how wonderful life must be to live as one of the Master's wives.
Yimou films the story with an astonishing beauty, giving even a scene of deadly violence (mercifully hidden from the camera) a gorgeous look. Yimou is also very aware of his leading actress's incredible beauty and he coaxes more expressions from Gong Li's face than it would seem one person is capable of making.
If you have any hesitations about viewing a subtitled film, put them aside and allow yourself to be taken on one of the most wonderful cinematic journeys you will ever travel.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2004
Someone said it was a mystery why Chinese actress Gong Li hasn't been brought to Hollywood to make films. I don't know either. She's a brilliant actress. "Raise The Red Lantern" was the second film I saw with her (the first had been the delectible "Farewell My Concubine"; that film got me hooked on Chinese cinema). " ... Lantern" places it's female characters in a world long gone, in a safety net that gave poor beautiful young girls few options. For in the courtyard of doors leading to the quarters of 3 various concubines, all 3 including the mandarin await the arrival of a 4rth--Gong Li, young, beautiful and vibrant. All the women are prisoners of their culture where the value of a female is low. They will get what they need to survive and more in a country where survival for the poor is an every day struggle. Seasons change, but circumstances don't--until the new concubine arrives.

Whenever the mandarin of the house wants to sleep with any one of these women, a red lantern is placed like a large spot of blood at the door of one of the women. None can refuse. However with the new arrival, small rebellions grow, jealousies come to the fore and even violence and murder occur. Trapped in a world where everyone thinks she has no alternative but to submit to her master's calling, Gong-Li's character figures out a scheme that will allow her a sort of freedom yet ironically at the expense of her sanity. Just brilliant.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2007
This DVD version distributed by the actual distributors of the film is far superior to the previous bootleg version distributed by the those first bootleg DVD distributors. Look for "World Films" with the MGM insignia on the case and you've got the right one.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2005
Director Zhang Yimou creates one of the most visually mesmerizing films through his brilliant use of color, setting and cinematography. His direction is masterful......the wealthy master always shot at a distance signifying his smallness and unimportance......the vast palatial estate shot nearly devoid of people signifying the emptiness of the people who dwell within. Just superb.

Gong Li is equally stunning in her portrayal of an educated woman trapped within China's social structure serving as Fourth Mistress to the wealthy nobleman. Though strong-willed and highly independent she ultimately succumbs to the complex scheming of the mistresses as they vie for the attention of the master. This is one film that has to be seen to fully appreciate why so many reviewers just rave about it.
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