Red Sorghum

Director: Zhang Yimou
Screenwriters: Chen Jianyu, Zhu Wei, and Mo Yan, Mo Yan

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Zhang Yimou moved out from behind the camera to direct his first feature, starring Gong Li. This epic tale, which won the Golden Bear Award at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival, changed forever the Western notion of the Chinese film.

This story of rural life set in the northern province of Shandong during the 1920s and early 1930s begins with a young bride’s journey toward a prearranged future with the leprous owner of a wine distillery and unwinds quickly as the bride narrowly avoids rape and then abduction (turning into seduction), takes over her mysteriously dead husband’s wine business, which she builds very successfully, is captured, then ransomed and ultimately suffers the same fate as many others at the time of the Manchurian invasion by the Japanese.

The visual sensibility of Zhang Yimou, so apparent in his work as a cameraman, comes to full fruition here. His gorgeous wide-screen photography, complete with the reds, golds, and browns of wine, urine, sun and dusty hills, suffuses the screen. The mixture of violent catharsis and stirring drama, vitalized by the magnificent performances of Gong Li and the rest of the cast, creates an absolutely stunning first feature. Emotionally powerful and cinematically detailed, the film is as sophisticated and complex as the work of epic dramatists like Leone and Kurosawa.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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