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Raise the Red Lantern film review

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Brenda-Jean Shephard
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Raise the Red Lantern film review

 I was introduced to this Chinese movie years ago by a foreign film aficionado.  Its graphic portrayal of life in a provincial harem is a haunting reminder of the reality that many cultures in the world have practiced polygamy for the upper class.  Rich men over the millennia have been allowed to have as many wives/concubines as they can afford.  As portrayed in the movie, this created a fierce competition between women vying for favor and privilege.  The principal character (played by Gong Li) is a teenage girl whose claim to fame is that she has an education.  Not a very extensive one, but being able to read and write was quite a novelty, and it brought her family a good bride price.  She quickly discovered that her new world was one where life could be pretty pleasant if the red lantern was raised in front of your door—which meant you were the wife in favor with the master—and quite unpleasant if you weren’t.  These factors led Songlian to deceive her husband into believing she was pregnant, and to betray the infidelity of a rival wife, leading to her execution.  It was a bleak existence.  A depressing but thought-provoking film.