best film:   This feels like a dead heat between Raise the Red Lantern and 2046– both are masterpieces with strong arguments for this slot. Forced to choose, Raise the Red Lantern may be ever so slightly superior- and of course Gong Li is a much more important piece to Yimou Zhang’s film than WKW’s.  Gong Li will always be tied to the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers- Yimou Zhang and Kaige Chen- so in a way it is very fitting that her best film is the best film to come from this movement.



from Raise the Red Lantern- a watershed performance in a watershed film


from 2046- Faye Wong’s story is largely in this sort of jade color. Gong Li’s segment (the last one) is black. WKW is the master of ennui (at least post Antonioni) and Gong Li such a great model for the material.



best performance:   Gong Li gives one of the best acting performances of the 1990s in Raise the Red Lantern. She plays Songlian, the narrative vehicle, and she is in nearly every scene. Gong Li masters both the cold, pained stare- and the louder scenes she is required to emote. Her work in Red Sorghum is the stronger neorealism, wide-eyed (is this an actor or a real person?) performance. But there is not much debate- the answer is Raise the Red Lantern– she is just on another level here.



stylistic innovations/traits:  She was the muse of both Yimou Zhang (her best work here) and Kaige Chen – making her the seminal actor of the Fifth Generation of brilliant Chinese auteurs. These works make of nine (9) of her total eleven (11) archiveable films. Red Sorghum was her debut and Gong Li arrived (at age 23) with paralyzingly accomplished performance. It is the stretch of work between 1988 and 1995 where Gong Li did her best work and was one of the best actors on the planet. Seven (7) of her eleven (11) archiveable performances come during that stretch and all six (6) of her best performances. She has also been selective in her work – only appearing in 36 total films to date. As a comparison, Nicole Kidman (just two years younger than Gong Li) has been in roughly twice as many films to date.


from Farewell My Concubine- Gong Li arrives 56 minutes in and the film jumps up a level because of it. She is fantastic (and in her absolute prime in 1993). Her scene in the House of Blossoms whorehouse (really beautiful production design—red and green lights), her face and stare as her husband sells her out at the student revolution finale—an impressive performance to add to her resume.



directors worked with:   Yimou Zhang (7), Kaige Chen (2) and then once with WKW and Michael Mann


from Red Sorghum– Gong Li’s debut and her first of six archiveable films with Yimou Zhang



top five performances:

  1. Raise the Red Lantern
  2. Red Sorghum
  3. The Story of Qiu Ju
  4. Farewell My Concubine
  5. Ju Dou



archiveable films

1988- Red Sorghum
1990- Ju Dou
1991- Raise the Red Lantern
1992- The Story of Qui Ju
1993- Farewell My Concubine
1994- To Live
1995- Shanghai Triad
1998- Emperor and the Assassin
2004- 2046
2006- Miami Vice
2006- The Curse of Golden Flower