Discussing the tension between the individual, social and political issues in the movies
Raise the red lantern
In this movie, the “red lantern” is used to symbolize an erotic spell and sensuality but which lack passion. The concubines, as they are referred to except the first one who is referred to as a wife, are mere objects of sexual satisfaction for the man. Thus, for the concubines to have the red lantern lit for them, they have to jostle for the man’s attention to spend the night with.
When one is young, that is new in the household, they get a luxurious reception. However, after a brief stay at the household, the luxuries such as foot massage, servants’ attention and personal option during mealtime are withdrawn. Thus, their luxurious reception hangs on a frail thread of luck. There is intense competition between the co-concubines to win the man’s attention where only one of them could be the winner per night or when the master willed.
There is distrust among the concubines, as they use every tactic, sometimes even befriending others while in real sense they are their enemies,” with the face of a Buddha and a heart of a scorpion”.
The society depicted in the movie, is dominated by the males and thus, women have to bow to the wills of them. The concubines are victims of slavery, and thus are raped. Political tensions arose when the people in the household and who were supposed to abide to the rules and the customs of the house, challenged them. Thus, tensions included kneeling in the snow, being hanged secretly at the rooftop. There is also marriage that has got no affection in the community portrayed. In the film, the concubines vying to win the master’s favor portray the political aspect.
There is wife neglect. Wing Chun, a veteran martial artist, leaves his wife in solitude as he spends a huge portion of his time training in martial arts, meeting acquaintances and his fellow artists. There is inhuman treatment of the community portrayed in the film after Japanese invade. They lose their material wealth such as where the Ip’s house is made the headquarters of the Japanese invaders. There is community is impoverished, such as where the Ip is forced to seek work in a mine as a coolie so as to cater for his family. The scene where the Chinese police office and a friend to Ip, Li Zhao, kills Sato who is Miura’s deputy, after shooting Ip portrays an act of patriotism. There is racism, as portrayed by the British who treat Hung as a secondary citizen, and at times refusing to give him his payment and in some occasions refusing to talk to him.
There is portrayal of exploitation of the society where the Japanese military trainees use the Chinese martial artists to hone their skills in the veil of winning a bag of rice per every Japanese opponent defeated. Betrayal is also portrayed in the film where a former police officer is a translator for the Japanese. Torture is also exhibited in the film where an Ip’s acquaintance is ruthlessly killed, after taking a bag of rice for a match won before, and refusing to fight three karatekas. Blackmail is also portrayed in the community featured where the highway robbers harass the employees in the cotton mill for money.
Other political issues that arise in the film are western racism. Socio-political borders are portrayed by the invasion of Japan in 1937 and establishing strong points in Foshan. When British establish Hong Kong as their colony, colonialism is depicted.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
The film portrays both the intelligence exhibited by the two young men and foolishness of the villagers who are sent for “re-education” when Luo lies to village chief that Mozart’s song played by his friend Ma was a mountain song; and the foolishness of the villagers is exhibited when they fall for the lie. There are personal sacrifices in the film where the young men plan to steal books from a re-educating boy going back to the city and where Luo starts reading for the Little Seamstress books, showing that one’s sacrifice may uplift another person.
There is liberation depiction in the film when, despite being intellectually oppressed by being sent for re-education, the young men seek solace in the banned books that they have smuggled. There is depiction of adherence to outdated traditional customs where the seamstress’s father tells Luo to stop reading for her daughter fearing that it will affect her such as attitudes and dressing code.
In the movie, social issues are depicted, both the impacts and the implications. As the movie draws to a close, there is a project to build a dam which washes away the village. Thus, even though the society’s work may be done in good will, it may have adverse effects on some other people.
There is depiction of intellectual oppression in the movie termed as “re-education.” The country’s leaders are fighting the dominance by foreign nations and so have devised a political plan where they want young people to have an experience of peasant life so as to discourage such foreign dominance returning (Rey). Civilization is depicted by the clock of the young men because it helps them in getting on time and joins the day’s work of carrying the human excrement, fertilizer.
Issue of innocence in individuals is portrayed by Fengming’s color contrast. Later, as the movie progresses, Fengming’s jacket is shown a sooty and smutty portraying that he has been corrupted by the dirty town life: such as pornography, prostitution and murder.
Change of moral values in individuals under influence is also portrayed where Fengming is watching pornography and associating with murders noting three days before he was full of hopes. Exploitation and oppression to the Chinese are shown, which result from the economic reform, are shown by the murderers who kill their innocent unsuspecting victims, pose as their next-of-kin and then pocket the compensation as hush money. This is a rehashed form of cannibalism as shown in the movie.
Pitiful working conditions are portrayed as the movie commences where the mines are very dark. Social problems are reflected by the words of the mine’s owner,” China is short of everything but people”. Worthlessness of life is shown by where people do anything as long as they get money; this ranges from killing, prostituting (such as the prostitute at the post office who asks Yuan whether he’s sending money home as well).
Economic reform at the expense of the rural population is portrayed by how they are forced to unwillingly relocate to the towns for both as provisions of cheap labor and prostitution.
Rey, Chow. Sentimental fabulations, contemporary Chinese films: attachment in the age of global visibility. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.