If there were any fairness in Hollywood, Gong Li would have won the Academy Award for Best Actress for any one of her many movies. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, she is an exquisite actress of the first order. The opening scene, a close-up of her face as she resigns herself to her nihilistic future, will convince anyone of this fact. Raise the Red Lantern is a thinking, engrossing movie that dispenses with special effects and overwhelming scores and concentrates on story and acting. Zhang Yimou is famous for delivering biting criticism of the oppressive, delusional aspects of Chinese society. Raise the Red Lantern shows one very strong, independent woman's attempt to overcome thousands of years of historic oppression in early 20th ca China. Women are collectables for rich men, mere objects of possession. The horrific backstabbing and betrayal is among the women themselves as they vie for most-desired-object status. When the human need for dignity and respect surface, the repercussions are catastrophic.
The plot has been well documented, although this is one of those movies where the less you know going in the better. Suffice to say the first thing you'll want to do once the movie is over is to watch it again.
It is disappointing to see a number of very mediocre movies receiving 4 and 5 stars simply because they shun the standard Hollywood formula, as if mainstream automatically equals bad and independent automatically equals good. The mediocrity of these films becomes apparent when compared to indy films of the highest caliber, such as Raise the Red Lantern. Highly, highly recommended.