Raise the Red Lantern by Yimou Zhang is an appealing Chinese film that prompts to comprehend and interpret human nature and surroundings. It is like a movable art put on the screen that makes the audience develop thoughts long after they have watched the movie. The movie prompts to analyze an image of an independent woman who attempts to overcome the oppression that has been laid on women for more than a thousand years in the early 20th century, in China. The women in the movie have been portrayed as objects of pleasure for men and mere objects of oppression. For instance, the rich men take the women as collectibles for pleasure whenever they feel like.
The women in the movie have been portrayed as greedy and intolerant. Horrific betrayals and backstabbing appear among the women who fight for the most-desired-object that is status of superiority. This shows that, in instances where the need for respect and dignity diminish, the consequences become catastrophic and bring up victims.
Raise the Red Lantern has brought up the problem of female status in the early 1920s, in China. In the movie, it is clearly seen that, in feudal society, there is no provision of justice for women. Men subjugate women through socio-economic subjugation and cultural misinterpretation. In the movie, the four women, who are supposed to be wives of the rich man, are considered as concubines instead of wives. In fact, they are referred to as mistresses instead of wives (Groh, 2007).
Songlian (Li Gong) is sent off to become a concubine of the rich landowner. On her arrival at the home of the rich man, she is led to her premises and wonders why there are so many red lanterns that have been put around the place. The servants, who have been assigned to her, explain that the master of the place chooses, each night, a concubine to spend the night with. The red lanterns will be lighted and raised in any of the four houses to signify the concubine who is chosen. Therefore, each of the nights, the concubines must gather at dusk, when they will be announced about the house that has got the lighted lanterns. This means that the following day, the concubine will run the household, chose the food to be eaten, and get a sense of an upper hand over the remaining three concubines.
Songlian is the new fourth mistress of the household. Yi-mou Zhang has created this character to show the oppression and subordinate role of the women. After Songlian’s marriage, her name becomes irrelevant, and she is simply referred to as the fourth mistress or the fourth sister of the other concubines. Her name is no longer valued, irrespective of her beauty. She is expected to compete for her master’s affection just like the other three concubines. This shows that the women in that society are oppressed and taken for granted. Their feelings and emotions are not taken into consideration.
The third mistress (Caifei He) is a young and beautiful woman, who had had an upper hand before the fourth mistress came. Her dressing is fashionable, and she sings opera. After the fourth mistress has arrived, the third mistress resolves to become petty and use cattiness in order to attract the favor of the master. This portrays her jealous. Despite the fact that she understands that all of the four must work hard to get the master’s favor, she becomes tricky to be the favored one. She cannot let the fourth mistress take up the favor.
The second mistress (Cuifen Cao) offers a more formidable competition. She is middle aged but still charming. Her intentions are clouded. The third mistress states that she has a Buddha’s face but a scorpion’s heart. This shows that she is pretentious.
The first mistress is old. She is a nonentity to the master’s affection. She has a son who is almost the age of the fourth mistress. She is desperate. Because of her loneliness, she goes into backbiting and underhanded competition.
The four mistresses have been depicted as tactful and tricky. They all devise means that can help them attract the master’s affection towards them. They do not mind whether the tactics they devise are harmful to the other mistresses or not, as long as the tactics serve to attract the affection of the master towards them.
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The maid, Yan’er is envious. The fourth mistress must analyze a way to deal with her personal maid. Yan’er hates her because of taking the position of the fourth mistress, yet she expected to be the one. This issue creates an intriguing relationship between Yan’er and the fourth mistress with regard to Yan’er’s alliances within the issues of deceit and gossip that exist across the household.
Despite the fact that the women live in luxury, they are all lonely. All the four are desperately alone and use the master as a jockey to give them a place over each other. In the movie, the master is only noticeable from the obscurities in most shots. Even when the film goes towards its end, the audience cannot see a clean shot that reveals his real identity. This shows that the women are more important in the film than men (Brownell & Wasserstrom, 2002).
The movie shows that the women create a problem for themselves by giving men a reason to oppress them. The master has the liberty to choose from the four mistresses because they are all his. However, because of their greed, they all fight against each other by means of deceit, gossip, backbiting and underhanded competition thinking that the master will choose them.
Raise the Red Lantern occurs in a rich family. The word rich only applies to the masters, who are the sources of concubines’ income, and they are dependent on them. Therefore, that resource is scarce, and the women have to fight for their master. The concubines and the maid Ya’ner are all tricksters to the extent that no one can tell which side the others stand for. For instance, the second mistress treats Songlian remarkably well. She even gave Songlian the precious Suzhou Silks as gifts. However, she curses Songlian with an aim to defeat her competitor. Here, the second mistress is allured by the power of dominance (Groh, 2007).
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The maid Yan’er wanted to attract the master into taking her as his mistress. When the fourth mistress realized this, she forced the maid to die. The third mistress had tricked the second and managed to keep a counterbalance for each other for several years. However, she neglected an affair that caused her death. The fourth mistress became mad when she witnessed the murder. The second mistress seemed to have won the battle into the dominance of the four, but the master brought another mistress.
The background features of the film play important role for interpretation of its acute issues. The costumes that the characters put on reveal the position they occupy in the society. For instance, Songlian, who is the fourth mistress, puts on costumes with bright colors that show she is an important figure in the household. The servants, for instance, Yan’er puts on costumes with an old and plain style color. This shows that the servants occupy a different and lower social class compared to the maids. The colors of the costumes that the mistresses put on differ and show the positions that they occupy within the household. The first mistress wears a costume with dark purple color that shows she is the most mature, rich, and powerful than the other mistresses (Brownell & Wasserstrom, 2002).
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All the women in the movie show the roles of females in Chinese society. At a certain point, Songlian says, “Alright, I’ll get married.” This shows that one of the roles of the women was to get married and serve the master as mistresses. Women also act as servants. This is clearly seen through Yan’er, the maid, and the woman who offers Songlian a massage. It is also clear when the woman who serves Songlian says, “I am here to serve you,” when she goes to offer her a massage.
Raise the Red Lantern brings the issues of the positions occupied by women in the Chinese culture. It also brings up the issues of patriarchy within that society and the differences in social and economic classes between women themselves and between women and men. The four mistresses, who act as the wives to the master, and the maid Yan’er and their competition for the master bring issues of jealousy, tact, trick, and backstabbing. The movie is an excellent piece of Chinese culture.