Red Sorghum by Zhang Yi Mou (1988) is a film about the struggles a young woman, Jiu’er, faces as the head of an obscure and impoverished distillery in China. The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in the same year of its release, and is iconic in its ‘lush and lusty portrayal of peasant life’ (Wikipedia). It is also noted for the rich colours and landscape textures of its vivid cinematography, executed by Gu Changwei in collaboration with Zhang. The story is narrated from the perspective of Jiu’er’s grandson, who remains anonymous throughout the movie. Although Zhang is included and considered by many as a 5th Generation filmmaker, his work was the first modern Chinese film to make forays into the Hollywood scene. (Rogert Ebert, Red Sorghum)

Artist statement:

Red Sorghum has been described as a sort of poetic tribute in remembrance of the story’s workers’ courageous ambush against their Japanese attackers. In a sense, it resembles a ballad of their brave deeds, hence my decision to do a poem.Indeed, there is a famous scene where the characters burst into boisterous song, which I found highly amusing.

I would like to bring special attention to the style of this simple verse, which is haiku; a form of poetry typically associated with Japanese culture. The reason I chose haiku was to embody both the juxtaposition of form against content, which reflects the conflict of the Japanese-Sino War that took place during the period in which Red Sorghum is set. Another inspiration that prompted my selection was the beautiful simplicity of its structure, that helps to highlight the simple peasants’ lives as well.


Bitter-sweet tribulation
distills better brews


Wikipedia. Red Sorghum. [online] Accessed 24 June.

Ebert, Roger. Red Sorghum. 1989.[online]. Accessed 24 June.
Art Speak China. Fifth Generation Filmmakers. [online]. Accessed 24 June.

About the author: Ilene is a writer who is currently wondering if a little sorghum wouldn’t help her sore brain.


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