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Close up of actress Gong Li
Red Sorghum


Red Sorghum (Hong gao liang)


Epic Intimacy: The Cinema of Zhang Yimou & Gong Li

Seasons & Screenings

12 Mar + 15 Mar

Winner of the Golden Bear at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, Zhang Yimou's debut immediately solidified his place in world cinema and that of his star and future muse, Gong Li.  

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  • Based on a novel by Nobel laureate Mo Yan, Red Sorghum is set in the northern province of Shandong in the late 1920s Little Nine (Gong Li) is bequeathed to a wealthy old wine-maker in exchange for a mule. As the young bride traverses the red sorghum fields her transport is hijacked by a local bandit.

    She is saved by a brutish and passionate young man and when they next meet he takes her into the sorghum fields to consummate their affair. Little Nine’s husband dies suddenly and so begins a new chapter in her life, working the land collectively and raising a child with her lover.

    With the arrival of the invading Japanese army, Red Sorghum shifts gear from gentle fable to realist drama. The violence and its after-effects are a sobering reminder of the bitter conflicts between these two nations that – like the Cultural Revolution – continues to serve as a point of departure for many cinematic representations in mainland Chinese cinema.

    After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy, Yimou was assigned to the Guangzi Film Studio. Here he served as a cinematographer on landmark Fifth Generation films, One and Eight, Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth, The Big Parade and as an actor in Wu Tianming's Old Well

    For his debut Zhang Yimou brought the full force of his talents as a cinematic craftsman to the screen. A film of enormous texture and coded colours, Red Sorghum provides audiences with a glimpse into the future of Yimou’s cinema, a world of spectacular literary adaptations and fables of the everyday.  

    “The sheer visual impact of the film is voluptuous.” - Roger Ebert