Hong gao liang (Red Sorghum) (1988)



Director:     Yimou Zhang.

Starring:     Li Gong (My Grandma), Wen Jiang (My Grandpa), Rujun Ten (Uncle Luohan).

an assassin goes to kill the three assassins trying to kill the King of Qin


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The narrators says that he will tell the tale about his grandfather.  He says this is his grandmother on her wedding day when she was to marry the winery master Big Head Li, over 50 years old and a leper.  When grandmother is all finished dressing, she is taken in a palanquin followed by a band of musicians.  They are almost all Big Head's men and they all look pretty shabby.   One of the carriers was hired and this man became the narrator's grandfather.  The carriers taunt the bride saying things like Big Head's whole body is full of poison.  They advise her not to touch her groom or she will start to rot.  They want her to say something to them and they are going to keep jolting her around in the palanquin until she does.  Grandmother is starting to feel sick.  Expecting possible trouble, she puts a pair of scissors into her jacket. 

Grandmother starts crying so they carry her normally the rest of the way.  As they head to the winery they pass Qingshakou.  They go through a field of sorghum (an Old World grass, Sorghum bicolor, several varieties of which are widely cultivated as grain and forage or as a source of syrup).  While in the field, a highway robber stops the procession.  He has the men put all their valuables in a pile.  Now he tells the bride to get out.  He tells her to get walking through the sorghum.  As he turns his back, the men jump on him and stomp on him.  The bride gets back in the palanquin and off they go. 

As they approach the winery, the bride with her head completely covered by a small red sheet is brought inside by two better-dressed servants.  Grandmother looks back toward grandfather just before she goes inside. 

Three days after the wedding, grandmother visits her parents.  Her father came to pick her up.  Her husband gave them a donkey on which grandmother rode.  When dad tells her she must go back to Li, she makes her donkey go faster.  She gets quite far ahead of her father.  When going through another sorghum field, a hooded man jumps out and grabs her off the donkey.  He carries her through the sorghum.  He falls and she starts running.  The hooded man chases after her.  He goes around her and then stands right in her path.  She stops.  He takes off his hood and it's the man she was asking with her eyes to help her.  In other words, it was grandfather.

He grabs her again to carry her out of the field.  Grandmother rides on her donkey.  Grandfather sings a song about them drinking red, red sorghum wine.  Her father walks behind, while grandfather walks through the sorghum.  When they reach Grandmother's father's home, he starts in again on her saying that she belongs to Li and that she will inherit his property when he dies.  She gets so sick of this that she turns over the table saying:  "I'll go!  I'll go!"  She tells her father that he doesn't love her.  All he wants is that donkey outside.  She gets on her donkey and starts back. 

Big Head Li has been killed at the winery.  The narrator thinks it was his grandfather who killed Li.  But no one ever really knew.  The men who worked for Li wonder about who killed the boss.  The female servant comes in and says she saw Mrs. Li outside.  The men go out to check.  She is sleeping on a mat in the courtyard.  She's afraid that if she goes in, she will become ill of leprosy.  A worker named Luohan goes up to her and spits sorghum wine all around her mat.  He says sorghum wine kills all the germs. 

The next morning everyone is about to leave.  Mrs. Li asks them to stay.  And even if they go they will be welcomed back at any time.  If they stay they will get a share of the earnings.  They say they will stay, mistress.  She asks them not to call her mistress as she is from a poor family too.  They will all be equals.  She says she was born the ninth child, on the ninth day of the ninth month so they call call her what she has always been called:  Little Nine.  They ask her to give them her orders.  She says let's all take a three day holiday and burn everything in the house that Mr. Li owned or touched.  She has already singled out the older man, Luohan, to be the foreman.  In addition, they will use red sorghum wine to disinfect the whole place. 

Little Nine makes decorations for the windows.  Grandfather has returned and all the workers want to know about his adventures with Little Nine.  He is drunk and says he is going to stay in the house with Little Nine because she is his wife.  While he is shouting at the men, Little Nine comes out.  He asks her to tell the men that she told him that she liked him.  Little Nine closes the two doors in his face.  He goes into the house anyway.  The men all get close to the door to listen.  Little Nine opens the doors and throws grandfather's bedding outside.  She steps out and tells the men that grandfather is drunk and she wants them to take him away.  The men hold him down while she paddles his behind with a wooden shovel. 

The men take him over to the huge vats and throw him into one of them. They put a covering over the container that grandfather is in, but then three shots are fired in their direction.  Someone shouts:  "It's Sanpao!"  Everyone scatters.  Sanpao asks Little Nine if Li slept with her and she says yes.  The bandit says that's a shame. 

Grandfather stayed in the vat for three days, while Sanpao took grandmother away.  The bandit holds her for a ransom. 

Little Nine is brought home.  Grandfather runs over to welcome her back, but he is very sheepish when she looks at him.  He starts running over the hill, while Little Nine looks back at him as he disappears over the hill. 

Grandfather goes into a butcher shop and asks for a drink.  He then asks for a steak, but all they have prepared is ox head.  The owner says the steak is saved for Sanpao.  A huge boiled ox head is placed in front of grandfather.  He bites into the ox head.  A little later he tells the owner that he has only three pence to give them, but the owner says he wants one silver coin.  The owner and the assistant start to wrestle with grandfather until Sanpao and his gang come in.  The owner tells the bandit that this fellow here doesn't want to pay for what he ate and drank.  Sanpao tells him to cut out the tongue of the man. 

Two big men come over to cut out his tongue.  Now grandfather says he was just joking.  He was drunk and didn't really know what he was saying.  So the two men tell him to keep his tongue, but he must bow to Sanpao and ask for his forgiveness.  So that's what grandfather does.  But as everyone relaxes, he charges Sanpao and puts a large knife up to his throat.  He says that Sanpao ruined his woman, but the bandit says that he would never touch a leper's woman. So grandfather let's go of him.  Then Sanpao kicks grandfather over to his henchmen and they grab him.  Now Sanpao holds a pistol on grandfather, who now scolds the bandit:  "I spared you before.  Now you want to kill me?"    He starts to go outside, but Sanpao fires three shots over his head. 

Back at the winery the female servant tells Little Nine that Luohan had to borrow the money to pay her ransom.  Luohan comes in to ask if Little Nine is alright?  It's the ninth day of the ninth day, so he asks her to come outside and watch them light the fires.  Little Nine gets up to see this.  Luohan shows her how the wine is made.  She watches as the sorghum wine start sto pour out of a spigot.  The men fill their bowls and say a toast to the wine god.  The men sing a song and then drink the wine down spilling some of it onto their chests.  They give Little Nine some wine to drink.  They tells her that she has to keep drinking until it is finished and so she does. 

Grandfather shows up.  He puts four large containers of red sorghum wine on the ground and pisses into them.  Then he throws the sorghum out of the pot using a shovel.  After doing all that damage he picks her up and carries her into her house. 

Luohan tastes the wine that was tainted by grandfather and he found it to taste even better.  He takes a big vat of it over to Little Nine's house and tells her about the good tasting wine.  And now he asks her for a good name for the wine.  She says "18 Mile Red" because the name of the place is "18 Mile Slope". 

Luohan left the winery that night.

Nine years later.  "Eighteen Mile Red" became famous.  The narrator says his father was nine years old.  His father would play by jumping from one vat to another.  Little Nine sees a man standing on top of the hill.  She looks more closely and sees it is Luohan.   She runs to catch up with him, but he runs too.   She stops chasing him.  When she turns around she sees her husband kneeling near her.  She tells him it was Luohan she was chasing. 

The Japanese come into the community to build a road.  They start cutting down the wild sorghum field using the local Chinese as labor slaves.   The slaves have to tramp down the sorghum with their feet.  Both men and women are doing the work, as well as the children.  The Japanese officer gives the command to have the butcher from the local butcher shop flay a Chinese man alive.  The man to be flayed is Sanpao.  The butcher tells the Japanese translator that he is sure they are kidding him.  No.  Flay the man or be killed himself.  The butcher goes over to Sanpao and stabs him, then he shouts to the Japanese:  "Screw you!"  The Japanese shoot the butcher.

Now they tell the butcher's assistant to flay a different man:  Luohan.  The very thin Chinese man does not want to do this at all and he keeps protesting.  The man does the job but now it looks like he's gone absolutely mad.  The narrator says that the Japanese rounded up 400,000 men to build their highway.  The Japanese destroyed fields and killed thousands of people. 

Back at the winery, as the men watch, Little Nine pours some 18 Mile Red into a bowl  She drinks some.  She then asks her son Douguan to come forward. She asks Douguan to drink some red wine.  Now she tells the men to drink up the 18 Mile Red and attack the Japanese at dawn to avenge Brother Luohan!  So the bowls are brought over, the wine is poured and the men drink the 18 Mile Red. 

The men dig holes in the road and place the red wine vats in them.  Douguan pisses in one of the pots.  The guys cover the vats.  They sleep hidden in the sorghum.

Little Nine prepares a feast at the winery.  Douguan comes running back to the winery.  He says the men are hungry so Little Nine and the female servant bring food out to them.  As they walk along the road, the Japanese truck comes down the road and a machine gunner kills the two women.  The men throw Molotov cocktail in jugs at the Japanese.  Every Japanese soldier is killed.  Douguan now takes dad to where his mother lays dead.  Dad is in shock at what he finds.  There is a total eclipse of the sun.  Grandfather just keeps looking straight ahead in a daze. 


The film is set during the Japanese occupation of China.  But the part about the war was the minor part of the film.  Mostly it was a love story about a poor winery worker and a poor Chinese woman who is being forced to marry the old, leprous winery owner.  She does marry Mr. Li, but then she goes to visit her parents for three days.  The father is intent on sending her back to the rich man.  His daughter says he only wants the donkey Mr. Li gave them. He doesn't love his daughter.  The woman starts back to the winery, but before she gets there someone has killed the winery owner.  The narrator believes that it was his father who killed Mr. Li, because he was in love with the narrator's future grandmother.  But no one really knew for sure.  Mrs Li now takes over as the owner of the winery.  She asks everyone to stay on and help her.  They agree.   

The narrator's future grandfather becomes the replacement for Mr. Li.  They have a son named Douguan. 

The wine of the winery becomes famous and the winery prospers.  And then the damn Japanese show up with their absolute brutality to the Chinese who are forced to work for them to build a road.  Having to watch the terrible brutality, Mrs. Li is set on getting revenge on the Japanese bastards.  Li Gong (My Grandma) and Wen Jiang (My Grandpa) were both very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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