Screened as part of NZIFF 2018

Raise the Red Lantern 1991

Dahong denglong gaogao gua

Directed by Zhang Yimou World

The great Chinese actress Gong Li delivers a performance of exquisite expressiveness as a young concubine in Zhang Yimou’s visually ravishing 1991 drama of defiance, deception and authoritarian power. In a rare 35mm print.

China In Mandarin with English subtitles
125 minutes 35mm



Chiu Fu-sheng

Executive producer

Hou Hsiao-hsien


Ni Zhen. Based on the short story ‘Wives and Concubines’ by Su Tong


Zhao Fei
Yang Lun


Du Yuan


Zhao Jiping
Tachikawa Naoki


Gong Li (Songlian)
Ma Jingwu (Chen Zuoqian, the master)
He Saifei (Meishan, the third wife)
Cao Cuifeng (Zhuoyun, the second wife)
Jin Shuyuan (Yuru, the first wife)
Kong Lin (Yan’er)
Ding Weimin (Mother Song)
Cui Zhigang (Doctor Gao)
Chu Xiao (Feipu)
Cao Zhengyin (old servant)
Zhao Qi (Chen Baishun, the housekeeper)


Venice 1991; Auckland 1992


Silver Lion, Best Director & FIPRESCI Prize, Venice Film Festival 1991
Auckland 50

Of the Fifth Generation filmmakers who reinvented Chinese cinema in the 1980s (while frequently banned from homeland screens) Zhang Yimou was the superstar, and the biggest embarrassment. Each of the films he made with actress Gong Li pitted her against authoritarian power. The political allegory was eagerly consumed in the west, with encouragement from the director. Zhang’s subsequent career has been understandably bumpy, until his staging of the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 signalled rehabilitation on a colossal scale.

Ultimately, it was the stellar Gong Li and the pictorial brilliance of Zhang’s films – the exquisite chinoiserie of this one in particular – that thrilled western audiences. We are grateful to the Academy Archive for the opportunity to be ravished once more by a 35mm print from their library of Oscar nominees.

“In this dazzling dynastic drama a young girl (Gong Li) elects to become ‘Fourth Mistress’ to a tyrannical old lord in 1920s China. Trapped with her in the maze­like palace, we act out a drama of inter-concubine jealousy, false pregnancies, punishment and terror at the closing walls of an inescapable destiny…

Ex-cinematographer Zhang Yimou knows when to beautify an expanse of smoky-blue roof with a blood-red lantern; when to use snowfall like a cosmic shroud over human hope; when to move his camera back from an action rather than forward to enhance its power. Brilliantly, we never see the lord’s face in close-up. He is a shadowy totem exalted by remoteness, just like the wielders of a totalitarian power.” — Nigel Andrew, Financial Times