Guest Review: 'The Red Detachment of Women' sends mixed messages

Bullets were flying among the blasts of explosions and a Communist flag waving in the air. This describes several scenes in director Xie Jin’s film “The Red Detachment of Women,” which was shown in the Wildcat Theater on Nov. 6. The film was presented by Weber State student Ian Crookston for the Chinese film series that has been shown in the Wildcat Theater since Sept. 4.

The movie, made in 1961, is about a former servant girl, Wu Qionghua, who escapes her master and joins up with the first women’s Chinese Communist Party regiment in order to fight against the Chinese nationalist forces.

The actors gave good performances in the movie. One scene in particular stands out to me, as a main character sacrifices herself in a way that makes you want to cheer for her. On the opposite end, the main villain is portrayed as somebody you love to hate. He is cowardly and cruel, and you want to see him brought to justice.

However, there are moments where the script and the acting is so melodramatic that it is laughable. Several of these moments include the characters bursting into loud, unbelievable tears or staring off into the distance as they talk about something painful in their pasts. While those moments were over the top, the acting was decent and the actors did a good job in making the characters likable.

Now let’s focus on the movie as a whole.

Crookston explained that the theme of the film is women’s liberation. However, the film gives you mixed messages on the role of women. While the film is about a women’s army, the officers supervising it are all male. The men in the movie are the ones in charge; the women are all meant to follow their orders.

Even Qionghua, the heroine, provides many examples of being submissive to the male characters. She can’t escape from her life as a servant on her own; she has to have a male character set her free so she can escape.

In another scene, she has no problem pulling out a gun and shooting at her former master. But the moment her male commanding officer yells at her, she breaks down in tears.

Toward the end of the movie, however, Qionghua takes charge of the women’s regiment and makes decisions and plans for the army without male input. However, it’s at that moment that the real theme of the movie appears: communism. Crookston stated before the movie that the Communist government in China had a heavy influence on the movie, and it shows. There are several moments in the film when the heroes talk about the glory and magnificence of communism.

During one scene, Qionghua is lying with her friend Lian. They start talking about how excited they are about communism and how great things will be once their applications to join the Communist Party are accepted.

Qionghua spends most of the movie following orders and getting yelled at for her need for revenge against her former master. She takes control of the women’s regiment only after she gets accepted into the Communist Party.

This film gives you no doubt about who to root for. It portrays the Communist forces as heroic and hardworking and shows the Chinese nationalists as being villainous, cowardly and cruel. While the movie does hit you over the head with the idea that the Communists are heroes and the nationalists are evil, you will find yourself cheering for the heroes anyway due to what the nationalists have done to them. Qionghua is horribly abused by her nationalist master before she joins the army, the male lead’s father was killed by the nationalists, and the nationalists themselves are so overtly cruel that you want to cheer whenever the Communist army charges at them.

In conclusion, I would say that this film is worth a watch, especially if you are interested in Chinese history. While it isn’t the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, I was entertained and I’m glad that I watched it. The next and last film that will be shown in the Chinese film series is “The Lin Family Dinner,” which will be presented in the Wildcat Theater on Nov. 20.