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Compare ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ with the action-type movie of Hollywood

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The movie ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ is a Chinese film depicting the life of a young woman in 1920’s China who because of poverty is forced to become a concubine. This movie is exceedingly different from the typical Hollywood action film, such as Demolition Man. It contrasts in nearly every possible way, from the opening scene, camera shots, music, colour/sets, power struggles, acts of vengeance, deceit and betrayal, and the ending. All these factors contribute to this brilliantly directed film by Zhang Yimou.

The opening scene in ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ begins with a close-up shot of Songlian’s (the young woman) face. There is little emotion shown except for one tear that trickles down her face, as on off-camera voice talks about ‘life being so unpredictable’. Yimou intentionally prolongs this shot to create emphasis, instead of using explosions, punch-ups and a hostage scene as in ‘Demolition Man’.

The camera shots in both movies are similar, each zooming into one’s face to express the character’s emotions articulately. However, to show new areas, Hollywood cameras take the first person view to show what the scene looks like from the character’s point of view, such as when John Spartan (the hero) is led to the cryo-prison. In ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ there are only two main camera shots – the close-up of Songlian’s face and the overhead shot of the central enclosed courtyard, which infers that the concubines are trapped physically and spiritually.

Sound and music both play a major part in both movies. ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ practically has no music, and Yimou uses this wisely. He purposely uses silence to show the emptiness of the characters’ lives. It also indicates the slowness and solemnity of the place. In ‘Demolition Man’, music is used wisely throughout the movie, such as near the beginning when Spartan is arrested and ‘apocalyptic’ music is played to show his demise.

The colour in ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ is usually monotonous, except for the red lanterns that contrast to show where love is or will be made. This is similar to ‘Demolition Man’ (without the lanterns), when Spartan and his partner, Lenina Huxley decide to make love.

Power struggles are nearly a necessity in all movies. The main power struggle in ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ is between the concubines vieing against each other for the Master’s pleasures. In Hollywood movies, the power struggle is always between the protagonist and the antagonist, such as between Spartan and his arch-enemy, Simon Phoenix. Many actions scenes occur because of this power imbalance and additionally acts of vengeance.

Deceit and betrayal is also a major section of ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ and ‘Demolition Man’. When Meishan (the third mistress) is caught with Dr Gao in a hotel room, she is gagged, bounded and hung. This is slightly similar to ‘Demolition Man’ when the City Mayor, Chief George Earle, releases Phoenix to rid the city of rebels, but actually gets exterminated by him, and chaos amplifies throughout the city.

The endings in both movies are somewhat similar with happiness playing a part by the wedding of the fifth mistress, and by Spartan annihilating Phoenix and finishing up with a long passionate kiss with Huxley. However, Yimou’s finale provokes thought as you see Songlian demented and walking aimlessly about in the courtyard, while the fifth mistress is another victim of the Master’s wrath.

In conclusion, ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ and ‘Demolition Man’ differ in many ways from the opening scene, camera shots, music, colour, power struggles, deceit and the ending. Both movies have completely different storylines, thus the discrepancy of director’s choices. The only critical attribute is that Hollywood films seem to flow on, whereas in ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ you are made to cogitate about the situation.

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