On the death of her father Songlian is forced to leave her University studies and becomes the fourth concubine to a rich man. She enters a world in which a rigid ancestral code dictates the day to day existence of the four wives. Every night a red lantern is raised outside the boudoir of the wife who will be “graced” with the husband’s sexual favours. The women, though equally unhappy, are further divided by the competition to give birth to a son. The beautiful palatial house in which the women are enclosed slowly loses its allure as the closed, hermetic world in which the women exist is revealed as a physical and emotional prison. The ravishing cinematography and set design is itself a symbolic commentary on the abuses of power involved in the maintenance of “ancestral privilege”. As the seasons pass Songlian is stripped of her humanity, dignity and her power. Based on the novel “Wives and Concubines” by Su Tong. Gong Li stars as Songlian. This film was perceived as an attack on the Chinese establishment and banned although elsewhere, it was widely acclaimed and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Winner of the Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival, 1992. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
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