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Chen Family Courtyard Space Narration in the Movie Raise the Red Lantern

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The film raise the red lantern, based on Su Tong’s novel wives and concubines by the renowned director Zhang Yimou, depicts the male-dominated, ‘polygamous’ stories in the deeply rooted feudal family system. The main character in the film is Songlian, who has received higher education and has the psychology of accepting new thoughts and negating feudal thoughts. Later, Songlian’s father died, and Songlian was forced to marry into the Chan zuoqian family as the fourth wife. Songlian, who had been baptized by the new thought, finally failed to break the shackle of feudal thought. The Chan family has a tradition from their ancestors: a red lantern is hung in the courtyard of any house where the master sleeps with a woman. In order to let their yard to be able to raise the red lantern, all women in Chan family strife openly and strictly. Likewise, Songlian has not been able to avoid being sucked into the vortex. In this way, the film played out in the endless struggle between several wives and even maids, until the next summer, Chen family ushered in the fifth concubine. And such endless story and cycle carry on in this large and eternal courtyard. Although the overall narrative plot of the film tends to be dull, the description of details, lighting, music application and a series of profound camera arrangements can be called Zhang yimou’s excellent work.

People can not be separated from the group, society. People live in a certain space, which can be understood as the scope of individual activities, or can be said to be interpersonal circle. In this movie, the activity space of Songlian is mainly the Chen courtyard. From what Songlian sees, hears and encounters, we can see the oppression of women by the rules of the Chen courtyard. The third wife Mei shan has her individual character. She destroyed alleged rule and accomplished freedom, but has devoured by Chen’s rule eventually. Songlian also subsequently was taken away by the rules of reason and immersed in her own world. The film repeatedly emphasizes ‘rules’ and makes it a synonym of the feudal hierarchy, which is historic, traditional and authoritative.

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The Structure and Color of the Chen Courtyard

Literature, as an art, emphasizes the reasonable arrangement and layout of space. Film, as an art, also attaches importance to the layout of space. Film-makers often create an atmosphere in line with the development of characters and plots through the layout of space. The first sense of Chen’s courtyard is closed and rigid visually. The compound as a whole is a large rectangular quadrangle composed of many small rectangular quadrangles. Buildings are angular and symmetrical. The construction of the house conforms to the traditional Chinese golden mean. Every detail is built in strict accordance with the filial piety of Confucianism, and the design and materials are exquisite. In the picture of the film, the door is an axis of symmetry. On both sides of the door are Windows and wings. The buildings on the left and right are equal in height and length. Through the building style, we can know that the owner is deeply influenced by the traditional Confucian culture, and it is not hard to imagine how disciplined the owner of the house is. In the courtyard of the Chen family, people are humble and the rules are supreme. In front of the rules, people lose their right of speech and have no status at all. Especially the women, in the eyes of the master, women have no subject status. In the film, the master is always a dark shadow, which symbolizes the epitome of feudal patriarchal system rather than a specific individual. The courtyard is actually a narrow and closed space enclosed by four houses. In this space, people must act according to rules, which can also be regarded as the law of Chen courtyard. In the courtyard, there is no need to worry about food, drink or clothing. Everything is needed for people to survive. Survival is not a problem. However, such survival is just alive and has no meaning. The courtyard looks extremely safe, but in fact it is a large cage. There is no freedom for those who live in it, unless they die to get out of the big cage. he people in the closed houses were poor people, but they themselves were not aware of the problem. In order to protect the rules and have the executive power, they are jealous of each other, crushing, which added a suffocating sense of oppression to the gloomy and dead yard.

The advocate attune of the yard is gray, which presents a kind of hazy and gloomy feeling, because gray naturally gives a person a kind of depressed, hesitation, low feeling. Although it was summer when Songlian first arrived at Chen’s house, we couldn’t tell it was summer if we didn’t look at the costumes of the characters. If we only looked at the design and color of Chen’s house, we would feel a slight coolness, which was throughout the film. In addition to the main tone of gray, there are also black and red colors in the chen courtyard, which can not help but remind people of the worship of black and red in the Han dynasty. The black and red here have obvious historical traces, and the black and red in the Han dynasty are reproduced in the courtyard

One of the more prominent features in the film is the large red lantern, which happens to correspond to the name of the film. The bright red lantern is originally a symbol of festival. However, the red lantern in the film is set in black and grey, presenting the competition between black and red, just like the fierce fight between fate and feudal bad habits. In the movie, rows of red lanterns lose their sense of humor, and rows of red lanterns are like streams of blood, which makes people feel a sense of terror and suffocation. Red lanterns are lit wherever Mr. Chen goes, and the red lantern became a banner for winning favor. It was the blood of the women on the battlefield. The women in the courtyard all looked up and waited for the scarlet lantern. Besides red lantern, the red paper square that the window sticks is set with black

likewise, this is to say, the destiny of the woman contains black color, their future do not have bright.

The black color in the film indicates the absence of light and warmth in the Chen courtyard. The courtyard is main setting with black,which gives a person a kind of mysterious, horrible feeling. As a result of the fake pregnancy, Songlian was sealed off from the red lantern with a black cloth. The black cloth used to seal the lantern is a symbol of death, implying the tragic fate of Songlian.

Wives’ Bedrooms and Positions

In the film, the courtyard of the four wives is closely surrounding the corridor of the Chen family compound, just as the four wives are all around the old master Chen. In Chen courtyard, people’s dignity and status are granted by the old master, if a person does not get the favor of Chen master, he will be looked down upon by the people in Chen courtyard. Especially the wives, they will always put their minds on the master, the wives’ minds together also became the Chen women’s battlefield. In this war, although there was no unique gun or bullet, there was conspiracy, calculation and invisible blood. When the fourth wife Songlian arrived at the Chen family, a group of servants waited on her in and out of her room. When Songlian entered her room for the first time, she asked, ‘why are there so many red lanterns in this room?‘. The servant girl Yan er then coldly answer behind her: ‘isn’t this you to come?’ Through this simple question and answer we know that Songlian began to have a special connection with the red lantern in the Chen family. Not only does this connection concern Songlian, but the other wives of the Chen family also have a life-or-death relationship with the red lantern. Songlian, who had just entered the chen compound, still had the stubbornness of a female college student. She was also rebellious in her heart. She was puzzled and even dismissive of the red lantern in the room. At that time, Songlian had her own personality and she was different from other wives of Chen family. However, with the process of lighting, turning off and sealing the lights, Songlian gradually recognized her identity as a concubine. She began to quarrel with other wives, fall in the woman’s battlefield, and gradually lost their original personality. As the camera cuts, Songlian’s room turns to her courtyard. In the next long shot, several servants carry two rows of red lanterns into Songlian’s little courtyard to light lanterns. At the beginning of this scene, the tone of Peking Opera starts to ring with the pace of servants, symbolizing that life here is ‘drama in itself’. What Songlian and other women perform in this narrow and closed stage of life is a tragedy of human alienation.

There were no red lanterns in the chief wife’s room, but there were red candles, and the lighting and extinguishing of the red candle depends on the coming and going of master. However, the red candle in the chief wife’s room can be lit and extinguished at any time, which completely depends on the wishes of herself. She has become a symbol of power, just like old master, who controls the women of the Chen family with the rules of the Chen family. As the original wife of master, the chief wife has a son, and her position in the courtyard of the Chen family is unshakable, so the red lantern is dispensable for her. The second wife Zhuoyun’s room has no special features. A bed, a table and chairs, and several red lanterns. Although she always laughs, she has firm character behind a gentle appearance and all her so-called mind was entirely occupied with the matter of winning favour. She abides by the rules of the Chen family, and use the rules as a weapon to murder others. In fact, she is also a poor person, when she use the rules to suppress others, first of all, she was the first rigid by the rules, and no longer a living person any more. The third wife, Mei shan, has a special room. Besides red lanterns, there are also Peking Opera masks and costumes. In her heart, she yearns for a free life in the past. From her behavior, it can be seen that she is one of the more individual wives of the Chen family. When she is happy, she sings. But when she is unhappy, she also sings. She had no respect for master Chen and even ignored the rules of the Chen family. In Songlian’s room, red lanterns are indispensable. In addition to red lanterns, there are many paintings and calligraphy, which fit her student status. Yan er is the servant girl who dreams to be one of those wives. Her room is more simple and by the rule, there cannot be lantern in the servant girl room. What’s more, she was not allowed to light a lamp without permission. But her lust made her break the rules and her room is full of lighting lanterns.

Peking Opera Flying over the Courtyard of the Chen Family

Beijing Opera is the quintessence of Chinese culture. In the film, the main background music is Peking Opera, and the Chen courtyard is the home of traditional poetry and etiquette, so it is appropriate to use Peking Opera to match the courtyard. First of all, the Chen family is the home of the feudal tradition that stresses rules, and Peking Opera is exactly the Chinese tradition. And the combination of these two elements sets the tone of traditional Chinese culture for the entire film. Secondly, while the characters in the film abide by the rules, their fortunes rise and fall dramatically. The accompaniment for the main scenes and the music for the transition of chapters in the film are all Peking Opera. When the servant carried the lantern into Songlian’s courtyard for the first time, the Peking Opera began to ring out in a hurry. Music was so urgent, and the drumming was so dense. This shows that Songlian has completely ended her school days, and she will start a new journey of her own. On the new journey, what awaits her are numerous thorns and frustrations. The hasty music made the audience begin to envision the miserable life of Songlian in Chen’s family, and couldn’t help worrying about it. When the servant girl Yan er was kneeling in the snow, the hasty music also sounded. As she fell to the ground, music abruptly stopped and her dream was completely shattered. This is not only the fate of yan er’s personal twist, but also a twist of Songlian’s personality change. She became a concubine who killed people with rules, no different with others in the courtyard.

References

  • Pan Yuan. 2006. “Rereading Raise the Red Lantern”. Contemporary Cinema, No.4 (2006)
  • Xueyuan Yang. 2018. “Spatial Narration in the Movie The Red Lantern hanging High”. Journal of the College of Northwest Adult Education, No.6 (2018)
  • Lai Yijir. 2014. “Zhang Yimou’s Visualizational Remodeling to the Pioneer Novels”. Journal of Gannan Normal University, No.4 (2014)
  • Cui Juan. 2014. “Comparative Study of Adaptation Methodology Between Literature Works and Film”. Journal of Jixi University, No.4 (2014)
  • Chang Yuan. 2018. “Chinese Films with Good Story-telling: The Discourse Frame of Chinese Film”. Contemporary Cinema, No.5 (2018)
  • Chen Xia. 2012. “On Method of Depicting Tragic Image:Song Lian in Raise the Red Lantern”. Journal of Chuxiong Normal University, No.4 (2012)

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