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Thursday, May 29, 2008

RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991)

Zhang Yimou ’s third pic hasn’t aged as gracefully as you may have expected. This rigorously controlled look at the disastrous consequences that ensue when a rich lord takes on a fourth wife (Gong Li), tries to be both a startling window into a lost society and a condemnation of it. Yet it comes off as merely voyeuristic and misogynist as each of the wives tend scrupulously to their character flaws, mutual deceit & petty jealousies. After a while, the lord (whom you never get a good look at), his mistresses & the house staff all seem to deserve each other. (No doubt the point, but still . . . ) What does holds up is the physical grace of the formal camera set ups. (Too bad that Zhang doesn't rigorously hold to the style, copping out with pans & track at the big histrionic extremes just when he needs to be particularly rigorous.) The film is also worth a look just to see the great mansion/estate with its discrete units which are best observed in dream-like walks over the rooftop at night.

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