Set in turn-of-the-century China, RED FIRECRACKER, GREEN FIRECRACKER is a classic tale of the struggle between youthful passions and age-old traditions. Winner of three Golden Roosters--China's Oscar equivalent--He Ping's film comes through as an engaging, well-made drama, but lacks the
brilliance US audiences have come to expect from Fifth Generation filmmakers.
For many centuries, the Cai family has ruled over the vast territory of Northern China, along the banks of the Yellow River. But in the years leading up to the 1911 revolution, the family is left with one daughter, Chunzhi (Ning Jing), and no male heirs to run its successful fireworks empire. From
childhood, an uncomprehending Chunzhi is forced to suppress her femininity and learn the role of an absolute ruler. She is addressed in the masculine form, clothed like a man, and forbidden ever to marry. At 19, she accepts her destiny and ascends to the position of "Master."
Soon after this ascension, Chunzhi hires an itinerant young artist, Niu Bao (Wu Gang), to paint traditional gods for the coming New Year festivities. Finding herself irresistibly attracted to the spirited artist, Chunzhi realizes the price she has paid for her position as Master. When the artist
senses his Master's rising passion, he risks his life to win her. Chunzhi's love for Niu Bao tears at the fabric of her society; when their illicit affair becomes known, violence erupts and the Master begins to lose control over her people. To restore order, the family elders reluctantly concede
Chunzhi's womanhood, but bind her to a centuries-old tradition of selecting a husband: a death-defying public firecracker contest. Chunzhi watches anxiously as Niu Bao, among others, risks his life for her hand in marriage.
Although RED FIRECRACKER, GREEN FIRECRACKER is an enjoyable period drama, it fails at many levels. For example, Chunzhi's transformation from a sadistic, melancholic "man" to a giggly, glamorous woman comes off as campy, not courageous; her life remains ruled by her relationships to men (her
father, family elders, Niu Bao). The spectacular cinematography illuminates well the ambivalence Chunzhi feels about her environment--sumptuously elegant and beautiful, yet strangely dark and mausoleum-like--but this is overshadowed by too many heavy-handed metaphors. As soon as Chunzhi loses her
virginity, the Yellow River, symbolizing the inexorable flow of history and change, becomes rough. And, of course, there is the metaphor of the fireworks themselves, gray and lifeless on the outside, waiting only to be ignited and explode into an orgasm of color. This film's explosive potential,
by contrast, remains unrealized. (Adult situations, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: Set in turn-of-the-century China, RED FIRECRACKER, GREEN FIRECRACKER is a classic tale of the struggle between youthful passions and age-old traditions. Winner of three Golden Roosters--China's Oscar equivalent--He Ping's film comes through as an engaging,… (more)