The film Red Sorghum was one of the most popular Fifth Generation films in China and Abroad. As an adolescent American kid, probably the average, I got to see a new perspective of China through this class. I wanted to compare the Wests interpretation with Chinas. One of the first things I did was compare Chinese cinema to well known American cinema. Zhang Yimous first film as director, Red Sorghum was immensely popular at home and abroad. The film follows a popular novel with its point of view; an off-stage, present-day male narrator whose own life is ancient and minute compared to the family he was grateful to have been associated with.
Compared to a classic American Movie this is very much the same. The movie I am talking about is Legends of the fall. In almost the exact same way this movie was made. An older Indian gentleman begins to tell the story he lived. He grew up in a great family, with great traditions. Then he narrates the tale of a family and its struggles through love, war, bitterness, and bad times. Its starts with that voice, on a blank screen: I will tell you the story of my grandpa and grandma In LOTF an older Indian man starts telling the story of Tristans stormy birth We then see the hero at a very young age, fighting a bear.
In Red Sorghum instead of the expected old granny, we see a beautiful, twenty-something woman who, looks very attractive. When Nine arrives at the distillery and rallies all the men together to work, its comparable to the first time Susanna arrives at the ranch. Run by mostly men, she has some women, but the men all look at her with admiration. Right away Tristan is taken to her. When she is out riding and lassoing the cow, is like Nine rounding up the Sorghum to work. Tristan automatically chases a nearby Mustang and catches it. Much like Grandpa catching the first thief on the travel through the sorghum fields.
He comes back with a mustang, and Grandpa now has Nines appreciation. There are many script similarities, and cut similarities between these two films, yet LOTF has a more comprehensive plot, to me. Maybe its loses something in the sub-titles, that I dont find it as intriguing as American Cinema. One script point in particular in LOTF is the fact that the father was a former military chief, and he left that madness for a more peaceful life. Yet the three sons still insist on going to fight against Germany, and even enlist over the border in Canada to do so. This is a little more similar to Yellow Earth.
The fact that a daughter wants to join the Communists even though her family was against it. She even sets up a meeting with the song catcher, to fully enlist as a woman into the Communist Party. When Tristan and Samuel go to war and Samuel is killed. Tristan goes insane, as any man with such passion would. He scalps members of the German Forces and decorates himself with them. He does this as symbol to his role model, and a sign of the union with his brother. A similar scene exists in Red Sorghum, with Luohan when he is flayed. The Japanese impose themselves on the Chinese people, and take their very will from them.
The symbol of the peoples leader is flayed right in front of them. Yet they make a tremendous journey for all the characters in the rest of the movie. Both films tend to accentuate the sexuality and primitiveness of the romantic leads. In Red Sorghum the brazen shoulders, and sweatiness of Grandpa catch Nines eye. She likes him, and a very basic level. When Susannah first sees Tristan, he has water poured all over him. Like a calendar with a waterfall set, it sets a basic primitive feeling between the two. When Grandpa first sees Nine she is about to be raped. Yet he saves her, creating a sexual tension between the two.
Will he rape her as well, or help her? After Susannah is playing tennis. Samuel came over and asks Tristan how to fuck? This is right after Samuel says he and Susannah are going to have sex before marriage. So Samuel walks away and Tristan has a long look at her again, seeing her in a sexual way now as well. This is like the scene in Red Sorghum where Nine and Grandpa exchange long looks before the thief kidnaps her. Girl from Hunan also has similarities with LOTF. The medial worker in Yu Zhang impregnated the off limits girl. The one that was married to an infant boy. So he ran away from his family, and his son.
Tristan in LOTF ran away from Susannah. He took her virginity from her, when she was engaged and in mourning for his dead brother. He also ran from his fears of self, and fears of her, he did not however run from a son. One of the most surprising correlations with the movies is the death scene of the wife character. In Red Sorghum she is bringing the men wine and food. In LOTF Tristan is smuggling liquor with his wife and infant son. Then a rival bootlegger fires off a shot and accidentally kills Tristans wife. In Red Sorghum, the Japanese soldiers shoot Nine. Left standing is Grandpa and Father, both remembered by the narrator.
Left standing in LOTF is Tristan and his infant son, and the Narrator is present, just so he can tell us this story years later. New Chinese Cinemas Forms, Identities, Politics Browne, Pickowiccz, Sobchack, Yau The post cultural revolution cinema of the melodramatic type, however, explored in a number of its notable works the political victimization of men by the regime and dramatized masculine psychology, ranging from passive suffering to cowardice. Red Sorghum, by contrast, showed the reverse side of masculine political castration by retrieval and restoration of an idealized masculine virility.
Page 3 I was struck by the un-gendered character of the Chinese classical viewing subject as contrasted with the phallocentric male subject of Hollywood cinema. Wang yuejin has written a remarkable, groundbreaking article on Red Sorghum, in which he has argued that traditional Chinese ideology is structured no by the castration anxiety of the West, but by what he terms a femininity complex. He explains that characteristics traditionally held to be feminine, such as stillness, passivity, and unquestioning obedience, are highly valorized, whether for biologically male or for female citizens,.
Many of the heroes of Chinese fictional discourses are, in fact, heroines, whereas masculine figures are not only aggressive and independent, but often also flawed and social outcasts. Page 90 Red Sorghum is marked by its strong male subjectivity, making it in this was a counterpart to some of the womens cinema films. Yet Red Sorghum was a box office hit. Wang Yuejin reads the characters of red sorghum as answering a long-felt lack of positive masculinity on the Chinese screen. The hero of the film and his friends do not act out of deference to any explicitly authority like the Party.
Rather, their strength is autonomous and free of outside interference until the arrival on the narrator, overthrows the traditional feudal order that restricted Chunguan in Girl from Hunan. He kills the old leper who has bought Jiuer the bride he carried to her wedding by sedan chair and then makes off with her and makes love to her in the sorghum fields. Then they take over the winery owned by the leper and set up a quasi-matriarchal community headed by Jiuer. When the Japanese invade, the community rises up and resists as the sorghum grows anew. Then Jiuer dies. She is the only female character in the film.
The logic of the narrative suggest that the full development of traditional masculine characteristics is necessary to fight for freedom from outside interference and that, within such a masculine world, there is no place for the feminine. It is significant that, when Jiuer is killed by Japanese troops, she is carrying out the traditional feminine and maternal function of bringing food to the men; she dies because she gets in the way of their battle. P . 107 If we read the purely narrative it suggests that Jiuer is repeatedly kidnapped and raped in an emphatic affirmation of masculine potency.
But by positioning the viewer with Jiuer rather than the men, we turn the tables on the masculinity. We see the backs of the men, and thus objectifies the male, instead of the female. The cameral placement inside of the carriage makes us feel Jiuer eagerly peeking at the sweating, barebacked figure of Grandpa. Yet the entire story is narrated from the point of view of the male character. Thus we learn this story, first from Grandpa, then Father, then Grandson. In this sense, the entire tale is a male fantasy/construction, not Jiuers. Wouldnt youre grandpa tell you that Grandma fell in love with him the first time she looked at him.
P. 107 The film also offers several male role models. All the characers in the film are dead except for Grandpa and Father, who seem to stand for two versions of masculinity, on the pure macho adult male, the other the impotent infant who longs for his mother in films like Girl from Hunan. Both are acknowledged here. P. 108 The kind of macho figure shown in Red Sorghum, was popular in other genres of Chinese film such as gong fu. Yet the fact that this film combined this character within a historical retrospective, helped make it such a successful box office hit.