The Austin Chronicle

Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker

Directed by He Ping. Starring Ning Jing, Wu Gang, Zhao Xiaorui.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., July 21, 1995

From the talented He Ping, director of Kawashin Yoshko and the powerful, revisionist action picture Swordfight in Twin Flags Township (which was recognized as 1992's best foreign film by both the Hong Kong and Japanese critics), comes Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker, an engaging if somewhat uneven melodrama dealing with the dangers of hanging on to outdated traditions. Based upon a popular Chinese novel, the story follows the trials of a young woman, Chun Zhi (Ning Jing), who must assume control of her parents' lucrative fireworks business following their deaths. Since women in positions of power are looked down upon, and there are no male heirs to inherit the family business, Chun Zhi, in keeping with feudal traditions, is forced to suppress her femininity and dress and act as a man in order to assume her role as “Master” of her family's empire. However, things get complicated when a passionate, carefree painter named Niu Bao (Wu Gang) enters her life and she slowly finds herself inexplicably drawn to him. The pair eventually fall in love, much to the chagrin of Chun Zhi's guardian, the sadistic Mr. Mann (Zhao Xiaorui), who sets about ruining their torrid relationship. It all leads to a wonderful, spellbinding climax involving a curiously masochistic “firecracker competition,” the outcome of which will determine a worthy suitor for the beleaguered Chun Zhi. The biggest problem with Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker is that it can't quite decide whether it wants to be a brazenly tragic love story or a haunting social commentary, instead attempting to have it both ways, only to end up with neither angle totally explored. This occasionally results in a rambling, directionless plot structure that leaves some scenes dragging rather noticeably. But, to be fair, this is the kind of movie in which the moments of silence are just as revealing, if not more so, than when the performers are actually speaking. And there are many moments of such quiet effectiveness on display here thanks to the superb performances given by the three leads, not to mention the remarkable visual poetry of the cinematography whose intimacy places the viewer right alongside the characters in the town's dusty streets. Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker is not a great movie -- it's too slow and haphazard, for instance -- but it does have great moments of power and subtlety and is impressively well made to boot.

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