Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

This is a movie with a simple plot, if you can call it a “plot”.  It’s more of an examination, a look-in on the life of an interesting and sad character.  This is a movie about a woman named Songlian, who is sent to an early twentieth-century harem to be a concubine to the rich landlord.  It’s simple enough.  There’s no real plot in terms of beginning, middle, and end.  It is mostly a documentary of her life—and her decline—as she struggles with the hostility of such an objectified existence. Continue reading

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005)

Of all Yimou Zhang’s films of the last decade, the best is Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.  For some strange reason, this movie never gained the traction that some of his other films have made.  From the dramas of the early nineties (like Raise the Red Lantern and To Live) to the martial arts films of the 2000s (like House of Flying Daggers and Hero), Zhang’s popular films are well known.  But a mid-2000s contemporary drama?  Not as much.  Ultimately, Zhang’s best work has been in period pieces.  In Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, he has never been more modern. Continue reading

To Live (1994)

In light of my recent case study on the anthropological benefits of watching Yimou Zhang movies, I will now review the four Yimou Zhang films that appear in my list of the 555 greatest movies.  In order to maintain consistency and help this blog make sense, I will try to remain focused on the anthropological elements that were discussed in the chapter that introduced this section.  However, I will also dabble a little in the usual banalities: we will examine what makes these movies so great as movies, independent of whatever cultural elements they might introduce to us.  With that being said, it is important to retain in our minds the entire argument that I put forward in the case study: a movie is great when it causes us to connect with the mind of its maker.  When the movie’s auteur is precise with his decisions, and takes care of his story, its images and characters, then a movie is great.  I submit that not only do Zhang’s movies give us good culture, they film the culture in such a way that we can connect with it, and, by extension, with him. Continue reading