Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker

(He Ping, Hong Kong, 1994)


"I don't want to be master anymore. I want to be a woman!" So declaims Chun Zhi (Ning Jing), head of her family's fireworks business, in the China of 1911.

At the age of 19, Chun Zhi's celibate poise has at last been disturbed by the arrival in her midst of Niu Bao (Wu Gang), a rebel artist who has a disconcerting habit of announcing his presence with almighty firecracker explosions.

The elements of this stirring historical melodrama are simple. First, a sheltered young woman. Chun Zhi has the innocence of Forrest Gump: when one of her minions threatens to "blow the balls off" Niu Bao, she does not have a clue what he means. Second, a dashing lover who encourages the heroine to defy convention. Third, an old 'establishment' that reacts with violent chastisements.

Much of the film traces the tortuous romance between Chun Zui and Niu Bao. Their relationship begins with a charged exchange of glances, and continues through high erotic ecstasy to shame, doubt and repression. The emotional dynamics of this dangerous union are elemental to the point of corniness, but the movie skilfully holds our attention.

He Ping directs in a stately, measured manner reminiscent of Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, 1991). Silence and stillness reign, and the power game between the protagonists proceeds in crystalline, chess-like moves. The film makes brilliant expressive use of its isolated sounds: off-screen whispers, flung coins and sudden firecracker blasts achieve a galvanising, poetic force.

It would be easy, from its title and promotional clips, to mistake Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker for a vigorous, campy action film. It is nothing of the sort. The scenes involving firecracker stunts are brief and rather distanced. It is essentially a story of love and power, presented in that delicate, chiselled style we have come to know from quality mainstream Chinese cinema.

© Adrian Martin August 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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