Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Raise the Red Lantern Redux

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This Month's Film: Raise the Red Lantern
Cuisine: Chinese

As the credits rolled at the end of Raise the Red Lantern last night, Rene asked me why it had unseated Babette's Feast as my new favorite international film. I was hard-pressed to give him an answer. So, in the stream of extemporaneous verbal analysis that followed, I began by saying that much of my love for it is visual. Zhang Yimou makes such powerful use of the world he created within the palatial setting and its furnishings, not to mention the riveting beauty of his leading lady, Gong Li.

But beyond the veneer of its aesthetics, Raise the Red Lantern has so many deeper layers, from the specious treachery of the female dynamic that builds by subtle degrees among the master's four wives, to the unquestioning observance of tradition, without regard to reason or circumstance. I think Rene was also puzzled that I would favor such a tragedy, when my all-time favorite movie is a dead-heat tie between Zorba the Greek and Groundhog Day, two very profound yet buoyant films.

Perhaps it's for precisely that reason that Raise the Red Lantern speaks so strongly to me. That, despite its dark message, the tale is beautiful and compelling enough to hold the place of highest esteem in my international film library. But... I still love Babette's Feast as much as I ever did, so maybe I will have to declare a tie for my favorite in the international film category as well.

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