Red Sorghum

dir. Zhang Yimou

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Zhang Yimou announced himself as a master director with this deceptively simple folk fable, which also introduced the world to his muse and future wife Gong Li.

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Already a renowned cinematographer for his work on such landmark Fifth Generation films as Yellow Earth, Zhang Yimou announced himself as a master director with this deceptively simple folk fable; the film also introduced the world to his muse and future wife Gong Li, who went on to become the most famous film actress to ever emerge from the Mainland. Set in the lead-up to the Sino-Japanese War, Red Sorghum tells the story of a young peasant girl, Jiu'er (Gong), whose parents sell her into marriage with an elderly winemaker. Attacked by bandits on the way to her wedding, Jiu'er is rescued by one of her palanquin bearers (Jiang Wen, sporting maximum swagger), who later returns and becomes her lover. Together they turn around the wine business she has inherited, but then have to grimly dig in to face the invading Japanese armies. From its bawdy beginnings to its tragic conclusion, where an unimaginable nightmare becomes all too real, Red Sorghum is above all a formidable visual accomplishment: every shot feels utterly original, every nuance of colour a boldly symbolic flourish. "The cinematography in Red Sorghum has no desire to be subtle, or muted; it wants to splash its passionate colours all over the screen with abandon, and the sheer visual impact of the film is voluptuous" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).