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Red (1995)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

China, 1977. Xiao-Mei opens a box of letters, postcards, a ViewMaster slide, beads and other personal objects. She holds up the slide to the light, and looks at pictures of her father, mother and older brother Xiao-hei, all of whom have since emigrated to England.

Xiao-Mei visits a matchmaker, who shows her a picture of a Chinese man. Xiao-Mei wonders whether he lives in a beautiful English house, with a rose garden.

England, 1977. Xiao-Mei has agreed to take part in an arranged marriage so that she can emigrate. At her wedding her husband Johnny and a friend clown about, pretending to shoot each other. She spots a restaurant, the Fortune Star, out of the window, and becomes agitated.

Johnny introduces Xiao-Mei to his flat, where he lives with his mother, Mrs Ng. She orders Xiao-Mei to kneel and serve her tea in a traditional way. Johnny is unimpressed and asks her to skip it. Mrs Ng believes that Xiao-Mei isn't "true Chinese". Xiao-Mei discovers that Johnny keeps an elaborate shrine to Elvis Presley, and he mimes singing 'Blue Moon' to her.

Xiao-Mei painstakingly copies out English script on an envelope. Mrs Ng says that she should change into a blue dress, as her blue suit makes her look too masculine. Xiao-Mei asks her where she can post the letter, but is told that nothing good ever comes of old memories. She posts the letter, the ink leaving a reversed NW6 postcode on her finger.

While Johnny and friends play mahjong, Xiao-Mei watches a news report about disturbances following a National Front march during which many Chinese businesses were attacked. One of them is the Fortune Star, her family's takeaway. Mrs Ng abruptly turns off the television.

Xiao-Mei retreats to her room. Johnny eventually joins her. He attempts to be affectionate, but she rebuffs him. But she then removes her clothes with her back to him and turns round. He caresses her face. They begin to embrace, but she pushes him away. He leaves the room.

Johnny watches out of the window as Xiao-Mei posts another letter. The postman arrives, and Johnny gives the letters. He notices that Xiao-Mei's letters are being returned, and asks why. Mrs Ng says that her family must have moved, and says that that was her main reason for emigrating: Johnny was merely the excuse.

Johnny and Mrs Ng take Xiao-Mei to a Chinese takeaway, where her brother works. They leave, and the siblings drink tea together. She shows him the Viewmaster pictures and asks if he remembers them. She wants to know if he still has the viewer. He speaks English, she speaks Chinese. He produces a box and opens it, revealing letters and children's pictures - all returned from China. When Xiao-Mei asks where their parents are, Xiao-Hei shows her his shrine to their memory - on which he has placed the Viewmaster viewer. She looks through it.

Xiao-Mei returns home and returns her blue dress to Mrs Ng. The two dance a waltz together before falling on the floor laughing. Johnny comes home with a decorative mirror to ward off evil spirits, and Mrs Ng tries to translate the concept for Xiao-Mei.

Xiao-Mei visits Johnny in his room and shows him the Viewmaster viewer. He looks at the images of her childhood and is startled by the three-dimensional perspective - he reaches out, and Xiao-Mei kisses his fingers. The two of them kiss properly for the first time.

They wake up together on August 17, 1977 to hear that Elvis Presley has died. To the sound of 'Blue Moon', Xiao-Mei looks at the Viewmaster slideshow. The family snapshots are interleaved with images of Chinese Communist propaganda and Elvis.