Red Sorghum (1987)
Film title: Red Sorghum 红高粱
Director and year: Zhang Yimou (1987)
Loosely based on the novel Red Sorghum by Mo Yan (winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature). For more translations & helpful abstracts of Mo Yan’s work, see the MCLC bibliography.
Jiu’er, the narrator’s grandmother, played by Gong Li. A poor girl facing an arranged marriage with a husband-to-be who owns a distillery and is also afflicted by leprosy.
Narrator’s Grandpa, played by Jiang Wen. Hired sedan carrier who carries Jiu’er to her arranged marriage…
Uncle Luohan, played by Teng Rujun. Brewer at the estate of the husband-to-be.
The film takes place in a rural village in China’s eastern province of Shandong during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It is narrated from the point of view of the protagonist’s grandson, who reminisces about his grandmother, Jiu’er (S: 九儿, T: 九兒, P: Jiǔ’ér). She was a poor girl who was sent by her parents into a pre-arranged marriage with an older man. This man, Li Datou, who owned a distillery, suffered from leprosy.
As her wedding party crosses a field of sorghum, they are attacked by a bandit with a pistol. The hired sedan carrier fights off the assailant. After Jiu’er and the contingent reaches the winery, the man disappears. He returns to the screen while Jiu’er is returning to her parents’ house for a short visit. We see him wearing the same mask as the man who attacked them three days before. He kidnaps Jiu’er and after a short chase, reveals his identity. A sexual exchange follows in the field of sorghum.
Later, after the leper is mysteriously murdered, the young widow takes over the distillery, which has fallen on hard times. She inspires the workers to take new pride in their wine, and once again meets the man who saved her life. He arrives drunk and tries to claim her, telling the distillery workers how he deflowered her and that he is going to sleep in her room, but she tosses him out. He sleeps in a liquor vat for three days, while some bandits kidnapped Jiu’er and asked for ransom, which the distillery workers pay.
The man comes back again as they make the first batch of liquor. He takes four vats of the liquor and urinates in them. He meant it to anger Jiu’er, but somehow his urine makes the liquor taste better than ever before. The longtime distiller, Luohan, leaves in disgust, presumably because of her affair with the hired bearer and the resultant bastard son, the narrator’s father.
Meanwhile, as the Asian Pacific War begins in China (1937-1945), Imperial Japanese Army troops invade the area. The Japanese soldiers order forced laborers to flatten the sorghum fields. The widow Jiu’er and the winery workers are among the forced laborers. The Japanese then order a butcher to skin a bandit alive. The butcher resists, but is given a choice of death or skinning. Luohan is lost to the violence. The narrator then identifies many atrocities of the Japanese during the war and invokes the Communist guerrilla resistance.
Jiu’er and her distillery workers then have a liquor tasting ritual where they celebrate Luohan and his liquor, and Jiu’er recommends the distillery workers avenge his death. In the early dawn, they set an ambush and take liquor with them to use as a fire bomb. The outcome marks the culmination of the film in vivid imagery.
[adapted from Wikipedia summary]