Red Sorghum/Hong gao liang (1987)


Red Sorghum (1987)There are not many films that actually show you the award they have awarded, which could be seen as pretentious to say the least, showing off that you have won something before we see why they have won it. In this case the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival (1988). It’s not long until we see why Red Sorghum/Hong gao kiang (1987) did, an intense movie that takes place on a Chinese vineyard. Thrown straight into a marriage that is doomed to fail for Little Nine or the narrators grandma (Li Gong) who is carried through open country and fields before reaching the home of her leprosy suffering husband and vineyard owner, who dies before we even meet him.

You could say that the title is quite literal, going by the English translation, the intensity of the colour red throughout the film, from the box carriage that carries the bride, to the defiant ending. It’s a film full of passion, humour, love and honour. All in good measure as we are allowed into the narrators family history as she is brought to a Vineyard which she inherits after first wanting to shirk off her responsibilities to the business and the people who live and work there.

Not long after falling for one of the workers who makes his feelings known very early on, becoming the narrators Grandpa (Wen Jiang). Shaking things up for not just the other workers but Little Nine who is slow to react to his advances. It’s only when the first batch of wine is being distilled do we see the traditional ceremony hijacked by him both comical and disgusting. He’s very confident to say the least.

Everyone matters in this small working community, even more so when Uncle Luohan (Rujun Ten) leaves the vineyard for particular reason other than something instinctive. Now nine years later when the narrator’s father (Liu Jia) is around, a young child who not only replaces the lost character of Uncle Luohan having a pivotal part in the film. As we enter the last 3rd of the film with the arrival of the Japanese Army during the 1930’s. Filled with bloodshed and brutality which has the audience questioning how far the film will actually go. There was a moment that I thought I would be turning away from the screen. Finding the strength to carry on I was given only the beginning of what could be a lot worse. Seeing a skinning of another human being is something I never thought was captured on film, here at gunpoint anything is possible, we reach our limit after our stomachs are tested.

Its plain brutal and barbaric leading to a brave fight by the Little Nine’s workers to take the war into their own hands. What looks like a plan that shouldn’t fail, ends in a spectacular style, filling the screen once more with red, a signature of the film, laced in smoke that wraps around their secluded lives that we have been following. Simple people who want enjoy what they do, making good wine that is steeped in tradition. When their way of live is threatened they fight back with everything they have, their hearts are their real weapons against the Japanese who are portrayed as monsters on the  fields that are flattened and drenched in blood. The ending is one that will never leave me, steeped in red and heartbreaking to watch as family has been left scared for life. Everything is saved for this last scene which shapes the narrators life, all the quiet build-up of life on the vineyard, the arrival of the outsiders who threaten everything.

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2 responses

  1. Nice review, I recorded this on TV the other week. Your review has given me the incentive to watch it.

    August 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    • Thanks mate, I hope my review lives up to the film for you.

      August 10, 2014 at 4:25 pm

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