Recalling ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ by Zhang Yimou, this year’s recipient of the Jaeger-LeCoultre award at Venice

Posted on September 3, 2018

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This year, Chinese director Zhang Yimou will receive the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award of the Venice Film Festival. This is the recognition (dedicated to personalities who have made a significant contribution to contemporary cinema) that went to Mani Ratnam in 2010, and other recipients include luminaries like Takeshi Kitano, Abbas Kiarostami, Agnès Varda, Al Pacino, Spike Lee, Ettore Scola and Brian De Palma. Zhang’s new film, Ying (Shadow), will be shown Out of Competition. Variety reports that the plot is set in the Three Kingdoms era (pegged at 220-280 AD; the name comes from the division of China into the states of Wei, Shu and Wu), and that the film is visualised in the style of a Chinese ink brush painting.

Neither the period nor the style is surprising, for Zhang is known for historical settings (his last film, The Great Wall, released in 2016, was set in medieval China), and he is known for the painterliness of his frames. (Recall the astonishingly colour-coded Hero, or the gorgeous House of Flying Daggers, of which Roger Ebert wrote: “There are interiors of ornate elaborate richness, costumes of bizarre beauty, landscapes of mountain ranges and meadows, fields of snow, banks of autumn leaves and a bamboo grove that functions like a kinetic art installation.”) But to my mind, as the director’s canvases have expanded (along with the budgets; The Great Wall cost $150 million, and The Flowers of War, from 2011, cost $94 million), the intimacy in his storytelling has taken a backseat.

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