29 November 2016
Film review: Red Sorghum (1987) by Zhang Yimou, ***
This film is based on the well known novel by Mo Yan, which I have reviewed here in this blog. The story is that of three generations of a family in the deep Chinese hinterland during the first half of the XX century. China is in the midst of great upheaval, as the old order of the Qing Empire crumbles and the new republic is not strong enough to take its place. At the family level, a young woman who is forced by her father to marry an old leper so he can receive a mule in payment, rebels.
This would have been unthinkable in the past, but she does. At a broader social level, bandits rule the countryside and the state can not enforce law and order. Then the Japanese invade, and cruelly plunder the country taking advantage of its weakeness.
It is an interesting historical novel, useful to understand the conditions that gave rise to Communist China after Japan's defeat and a brutal civil war.
Gong Li is a young actress here, and she has not developed her skills quite yet. The script, too, is a bit naive, which the book is anything but.
I would recommend watching the movie but much more so reading the book.
A better movie by the same director, with a similar thread is Ju Dou, which I have reviewed in this blog. Same lady forced to marry same old man (silk dyer instead of wine producer) in a traditional Chinese context where the odds are stacked against her. But in the later movie (1990) she succumbs to the overwhelming odds.
See my other reviews of films on China here in this blog.
Buy the DVD here
Buy the book here