Genre: Visual Drama
Chen Kaige’s 1984 debut caused a stir in China at the time, toeing the line of criticism of the Chinese Communist party, making points still relevant today.
Set in the rural central China of 1939, Yellow Earth follows Gu Qing (Wang Xueqi), a travelling member of the Eighth Route Army. He stays with a poor family and forms a bond with a girl, Cuiqiao (Xue Bai). Cuiqiao is due to enter an arranged marriage, and is inspired by Qing’s stories about southern culture, and wishes to escape her rural life to become a soldier in the Red Army. Qing, representing the growing Maoist movement in China at the time connects with this traditional community like sandpaper. The distance between the family and Qing is beautifully shown in the awkward conversation and Zhang Yimou’s careful scene composition. Qing toes the line on becoming a criticism of the Communist Party in china at that time and their failure to help the peasants. He is either late to meet Cuiqiao so she can escape her marriage, or providing no help when he returns to find the village battling a drought. The simple, visual approach to storytelling is a refreshing aspect of this piece but the music is a close second. In these songs, the harsh realities of poor life are laid bare and character struggles that are never spoken of can be sung about. Cuiqiao sings of her fear of the marriage, and her father (Tan Tuo) rarely shows emotion, except for when he breaks into a heart-breaking song about his fears for his daughter and how she will be treated in this marriage.
Yellow Earth provides an evocative look at an old China, a place that we can still compare to inequalities in China today.