Inspired by Brian Lamb’s recent animated GIF of Frankenstein paired with a quote on abjection from Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, I decided to experiment with a multi-shot GIF breakdown of a scene from Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum (1987) which Yuejin Wang argues is “one of the most transgressive and ambiguous moments in Chinese cinema” (you can read more about why below). I’m also excited about this because it’s practice for the “Cinematic Analysis meets the GIF” session Andy Rush and I will be holding in professor Sue Fernsebner’s Chinese History through Film course. I have another sequence coming with more specific analysis, but I wanted to get this one out so I don’t have too many GIFs in one post—the bava can only handle so many!
Red Sorghum transgresses the conventional Chinese melodramatic narrative pattern of the vulnerable woman intimidated by bullying men. As ‘surprise’ constitutes the heart of what Barthes calls the ‘ancestral formality’ of capture, the film subverts that by positing the woman as anything but panic-stricken or surprised prey to male desire. Jiu’er’s first encounter with the masked kidnapper, or actually with a man, is one of the most transgressive and ambiguous moments in Chnese cinema. The shot-reverse shot structure establishes the woman’s defiant confrontation with an unknown intimidating male presence, a diabolic male power. The filmic constraint of her outward response signals her inner stability. The conqueror becomes the conquered. The frontal shot of Jiu’er is held still, correlating to the stupefied daze/gaze of the spiritually daunted and overwhelmed kidnapper.
“Red Sorghum: Mixing Memory and Desire” by Yuejin Wang