Red Sorghum | Chicago Reader

Red Sorghum

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival, Zhang Yimou's 1987 feature from the People's Republic of China mixes local history and legend. It follows the adventures of a young girl who is sold by her father to an elderly and wealthy leper, then is carried off by a chair bearer posing as a highwayman, and eventually becomes the head of a sorghum-wine distillery. This is the first feature directed by the cinematographer of Yellow Earth and The Big Parade, and its main virtues are visual—handsome 'Scope compositions of landscapes and sorghum waving in the wind, and a deft use of color filters. Narrated offscreen by the heroine's grandson, the plot is set in the late 1920s and early 1930s and ends with the Japanese invasion of the area. While the action is often intriguing—lyrical in the early sections, whimsical toward the middle, and bloody and suspenseful toward the end—the overall narrative gets broken up quite a bit by the episodic structure, and the film registers mainly as detachable set pieces.

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