Raise the Red Lantern (Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua) (1991) (NTSC)

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Released 12-Mar-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Notes-Synopsis, Zhang Yimou's Style
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 119:00 (Case: 125)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Yimou Zhang
Rajon Vision Starring Li Gong
Caifei He
Jingwu Ma
Cuifen Cao
Qi Zhao
Lin Kong
Jin Shuyuan
Ding Weimin
Cao Zhengyin
Zhihgang Cui
Chu Xiao
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Naoki Tachikawa
Jiping Zhao

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Chinese
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Songlian (Gong Li) is an educated, beautiful and perhaps even slightly belligerent nineteen-year-old, sold by her family who has fallen on tough times after the death of her father. She is deployed to serve as the fourth concubine to Chan, the Lord of a respected and powerful family, and is understandably miffed at being unable to complete her studies. Her role as concubine is explicitly defined by centuries of tradition and ritual, but she soon discovers that underlying rivalry between the wives is harsh, while hidden agendas and backstabbing abound. This is mainly due to the fact that being chosen to spend the night with the Lord brings with it certain privileges, including massages and a personal pick of the menu for dinner. A great incentive! When it comes to living space, each of the concubines resides in separate quarters, complete with a personal handmaiden, and they do fraternize with one another. It's interesting to find that regardless of culture or upbringing, some people thrive on confrontation while others find it intimidating. Songlian certainly falls into the former category, and when she is assigned a maid that she doesn't particularly like, the friction between them escalates immeasurably when it becomes apparent that the Lord has a fancy for a common servant.

    The Lord is depicted as a vague, shady figure, whose face is never fully revealed, nor is his occupation completely clear. Such details aren't necessary though, because the focus here is the internal politics, customs and, ultimately, the tragedy of this strict familial structure.

    This is Zhang Yimou's masterpiece, a beautiful, challenging and heartbreaking film that explores genuine human interactions, whilst revealing the complexities of a culture we so rarely get to see in the west. The film resembles a work of art and the performances are near perfect across the board. It's also clear that Raise The Red Lantern exhibits many of Yimou's trademarks, most notably his use of colour, however fans of his recent action efforts Hero and House Of Flying Daggers may be left a little perplexed. On the upside, it appears actress Gong Li and Director Zhang Yimou have reunited after more than ten years for his new film, The City Of Golden Armor, which should be fantastic to see.

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Transfer Quality


    This transfer has been sourced from a theatrical print that was in very poor condition. This ranks as one of the worst transfers to DVD that I have seen.

    This NTSC transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of roughly 1.80:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. This film was produced in 35mm and screened theatrically in 1.85:1. The image on this DVD has an odd framing unlike any I have seen before, with weird, rounded corners. Note that the cover slick incorrectly lists this transfer as "widescreen 2.35:1".

    The level of sharpness is poor, which is hardly surprising given the condition of the source and the level of compression that has been used. Contrast has been boosted to a hideous level. Colour depth fluctuates between poor and terrible. This is particularly disappointing for a director that uses colour as such an integral part of his storytelling.

    Film artefacting of all shapes and sizes is rife throughout the transfer and is particularly heavy during reel transitions. Small scratches literally fill the screen, accompanied by hair, dirt and some moments of extreme telecine wobble. Ridiculous hand drawn reel change markings are present, in fact each reel looks as though it has been through a shredder rather than a projector.

    As if the extreme array of source artefacting wasn't enough, MPEG compression artefacting has also been introduced in the form of macro blocking and grain during many scenes. Obviously, having to encode a myriad of film artefacts would greatly limit the efficiency of the compression process, however large the bitrate.

    Chinese subtitles are activated by default (which is one of many clues as to the origin of this transfer), so I switched to the English stream on the fly. The English subtitles contain many typos and grammatical errors, but are generally easy to read. The font is white with a black outline. I found the subtitle timing a little off at times because some lines were revealed before they were spoken and others lingered on screen for way too long. I wouldn't be surprised if these were composed by a non-English speaker.

    This disc is DVD5 formatted, so there's no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks accompanying this film on DVD, both in the film's original Mandarin language. The default soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, which is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 5.1 alternative. In short, the audio transfer is as disappointing as the video.

    Both audio streams are marred by pops, clicks, distortion and poor depth in general. A very loud, distracting pop can be heard at 20:10, while a moment of very extreme distortion can be heard at 33:00. A strange buzzing noise emanates from the soundtrack at 29:30. The dialogue is fairly distinct and doesn't appear to suffer from any major sync issues.

    The two-channel soundtrack is effectively a mono effort, in fact I couldn't detect any evidence of panning whatsoever. The surround alternative is noticeably louder, but retains all the faults of the default stream. Because the soundtrack has been evenly spread across the front with some slight spill to the rears, I found this enhanced the pops, clicks and distortion that was present.

    The subwoofer isn't utilised at all. This is a shame, because it could serve the excellent, percussive score well if it were mixed properly.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    A sign of the thought and dedication to quality that has gone into this disc is in this main menu, listing the film's title as "Raise The Red Lanterns". Oh Dear! The menu pages have some background animation, showing some key scenes from the film. A distorted audio clip is in the background and after one rotation the feature begins playback automatically.

Plot Synopsis & Director Facts (4 Pages)

    Four pages of text outlining the plot of the film and Zhang Yimou's artistic style. Though not particularly well written, these are presented in both Chinese text and English.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is identical to the Razor Digital edition released in Region 1 last January (our disc even includes the "FBI Warning"). An ERA Home Video Region 3 release also exists with slightly better video quality, but has burned in Chinese subtitles. If you must make a purchase now, this local product is likely to be the best you'll find for a while.


    Raise The Red Lantern is a stunningly beautiful and emotionally engaging film that deserves much better treatment than this.

    The video and audio transfers are awful.

    The extras are limited to a few pages of text.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Monday, March 20, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector, Screen Technics Cinemasnap 96" (16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
ERA release - penguin (there is no bio)