Red Sorghum (film)

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Red Sorghum
Red Sorghum movie poster.jpg
Chinese movie poster
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Produced by Wu Tianming
Written by Chen Jianyu
Zhu Wei
Novel: Mo Yan
Starring Gong Li
Jiang Wen
Teng Rujun
Music by Zhao Jiping
Cinematography Gu Changwei
Studio Xi'an Film Studio
Distributed by United States: New Yorker Films
Release dates China: 1987
United States: October 10, 1988
Running time 95 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin

Red Sorghum (simplified Chinese: 高粱; traditional Chinese: 高粱; pinyin: Hóng Gāoliáng) is a 1987 Chinese film about a young woman's life working on a distillery for sorghum liquor. It is based on the novel Red Sorghum Clan by Nobel laureate Mo Yan.

The film marked the directorial debut of internationally acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou, and the acting debut of film star Gong Li. With its lush and lusty portrayal of peasant life, it immediately vaulted Zhang to the forefront of the Fifth Generation directors.


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 old man, Li Datou, who owns a distillery.

As her wedding party crosses a field of sorghum, they are attacked by a bandit. The hired sedan carrier fights off the assailant. After she reaches the winery, the man disappears. He returns while Jiu'er is returning to her parents' house and kidnaps her after a short chase. He then clears some sorghum and they engage in sexual intercourse.

After the husband was 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, 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 paid.

Later, the man comes back again, when 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 War begins and the Imperial Japanese Army troops invade the area. The Japanese soldiers then torture and kill Uncle Luohan, an older and much-loved distillery worker. Jiu'er incites the workers to avenge his death. In the early dawn, they set an ambush and Jiu'er was machine-gunned by the Japanese. The ambush destroyed the Japanese trucks and troops.



Like Zhang's later film, The Road Home (1999), Red Sorghum is narrated by the main characters' grandson, but Red Sorghum lacks the flashback framing device of The Road Home (the viewer never sees the narrator).

The cinematography by cinematographer Gu Changwei makes use of rich, intense colors. Zhang himself was a cinematographer prior to his directorial debut, and worked closely with Gu.


Upon its release, Red Sorghum garnered international acclaim, most notably winning the coveted Golden Bear at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival.

Roger Ebert said, in his review and synopsis in Chicago Sun-Times, "There is a strength in the simplicity of this story, in the almost fairy-tale quality of its images and the shocking suddenness of its violence, that Hollywood in its sophistication has lost."[1]


Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 28, 1989). "Red Sorghum". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  2. ^ "Berlinale: 1988 Prize Winners". Retrieved 2011-03-06. 

External links[edit]