We gave it a B+
Some women might have particular empathy with the plight of 19-year-old Songlian (Gong Li), who becomes the fourth wife of a wealthy patriarch in ’20s China in Raise the Red Lantern. Under the feudal system, the four wives scheme and compete for prominence. In this incarcerated existence they can aspire only to various levels of servitude. The insidious game of sexual politics leads inexorably to tragedy.
Deeply affecting, Zhang Yimou’s handsome film moves at foot-binding pace; most viewers will be tempted to hit the stop button quite early on. But persistence will be rewarded: Few films achieve this kind of emotionally convincing feminist vision. When one of the wives admits to having borne ”only a cheap little girl” rather than a son, the phrase haunts the rest of the film’s running time like a baby’s ghost. B+