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ART 401A Appreciating Far-Eastern Cinema Written Assignment-II

ART 401A Appreciating Far-Eastern Cinema Written Assignment-II I/C: Dr. Ritwij Bhowmik Submitted by: Parth Vaswani 11491

I/C: Dr. Ritwij Bhowmik Submitted by: Parth Vaswani

11491

Topic: Deciphering the Color Symbolism in Hero

ART 401A Appreciating Far-Eastern Cinema Written Assignment-II I/C: Dr. Ritwij Bhowmik Submitted by: Parth Vaswani 11491

Introduction:

Introduction: Hero is a film that is recognisable as a traditional Chinese genre, first from literaturewu xia pian or ‘martial chivalry film’ has gone through several cycles of popularity in the cinemas of the ‘three Chinas’ (‘mainland China’, Hong Kong and Taiwan) since the early 1950s. The genre has been affected by events outside China, not least the worldwide success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Hero could not have been made on the scale (i.e. with the budget) that is apparent on screen without the success of Crouching Tiger . Although Hero has a Chinese director, Zhang Yimou , he is known in the West for his ‘art films’, most of which have been melodramas – not ‘action films’ in the Western sense. The " id="pdf-obj-1-4" src="pdf-obj-1-4.jpg">

Hero is a film that is recognisable as a traditional Chinese genre, first from literature and then from cinema. The wu xia pian or ‘martial chivalry film’ has gone through several cycles of popularity in the cinemas of the ‘three Chinas’ (‘mainland China’, Hong Kong and Taiwan) since the early 1950s. The genre has

been affected by events outside China, not least the worldwide success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

Hero could not have been made on the scale (i.e. with the budget) that is apparent on screen without the success of Crouching Tiger. Although Hero has a Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, he is known in the West for his ‘art films’, most of which have been melodramas – not ‘action films’ in the Western sense. The

four big stars of Hero are divided into two who are widely known for ‘non-action’ roles in Hong Kong Cinema (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) and two genuine martial arts stars who have moved from Hong Kong to Hollywood (Jet Li and

Donnie Yen). Because of these ‘global considerations’ and the backgrounds of the individuals concerned, Hero could not be a straight ‘martial chivalry’ picture – and this means it will have found different audiences, who will have ‘read’ the

film in different ways.

‘Hero’ is the second most popular movie release in Chinese history, (after ‘Titanic’ [1998]). The previous most popular Chinese-language film was the dutiful anti-corruption film ‘Fatal Decision’ [Zhongda xuanze, 2000], whose figures were artificially inflated by mass ticket purchases by government work units. It has been reported that the traditional Chinese greeting of ‘Chibao le ma’ (literally: ‘Have you eaten?’) has recently been superseded by ‘Ni youmeiyou kan Yingxiong’ (‘Have you seen ‘Hero’ yet?’).

Synopsis:

In the third century BC, a time before China existed as a country, a lowly prefect, known only as Nameless (Jet Li), has been summoned to appear before the King of Qin (Chen Daoming), because he has apparently - killed the King's three greatest enemies, the -until now - invincible assassins Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Chueng). Nameless is given a huge reward, but, more importantly, he becomes the first person to be allowed within ten paces of the king for a decade. In flashbacks, we see how Nameless went about killing the three assassins but the sceptical King suspects that his stories are untrue. The events are examined again, then for a third time, and the King comes to believe that Nameless seeks a greater reward than the King’s favour…

Narrative Structure:

Hero uses the narrative device known as a ‘flashback’. The film starts in the present (a ‘present’ 2,200 years ago) and then Nameless begins to tell his story, allowing narrative time to be ‘re-wound’. But there is a twist since it becomes apparent that Nameless may not be a reliable narrator. He is prompted by the King to remember things differently, so that we experience some of the same

events twice with different outcomes as the stories are re-told. Towards the end of the film, the narrative returns to the present and in this final sequence we experience events in parallel what is happening to Nameless in the palace and what is happening to Broken Sword and Flying Snow in the mountains.

This kind of narrative structure is not unique, although it is unusual. It fits a genre set in a ‘pre-industrial society’ where there are no cameras or audio recorders, no ‘evidence’ of what happened. It is part of an ‘oral tradition’ where people tell stories and within a wu xia it works because one aspect of a duel between warriors is ‘sizing up’ an opponent. Defeating an enemy is not all about action.

It also involves psychology and out-thinking an enemy. Interestingly, one of the most famous films that used a similar structure was Rashômon (Japan 1950) a

film which director Zhang has referred to as an influence. Rashômon is set in 12th century Japan where a man is murdered and his wife raped. The accused is

allowed to tell his story, which is very different from the wife’s. Then he changes his story and a witness gives a fourth version. The film raises the question “what is truth”. In Hero we get at least three different narrators. Nameless begins the story, but is then interrupted by the King and later by Broken Sword, both of whom recount their own experiences which Nameless would not necessarily know. The different versions of events in Hero refer to an assassination plot (and a great romance) but the film does seem to end with a ‘resolution’. Nameless dies

a hero’s death and Flying Snow dies with Broken Sword dead in her arms. China is eventually unified. But is this the end of the ‘story’? Because of the history of the writer-director and the nature of the wu xia genre, what do we take away from the story? Are we confident that the second version of events is more truthful than the first?

Usage of Color, Cinematography and Art Direction:

The writer-director of Hero, Zhang Yimou, trained as a cinematographer in the Beijing Film School and emerged in the early 1980s as one of the ‘Fifth Generation’ of Chinese filmmakers. Several of the filmmakers from this period

became famous around the world as their films received screenings overseas and won prizes at festivals. In the late 1980s China emerged from a long period of isolation from the rest of the world and many of the films seen in the West were interpreted as saying something about the history of China under Mao Zedong in the 1950s to 1970s not directly, but by means of metaphor. Zhang Yimou began as a cinematographer and then moved on to become a director. He quickly established a reputation as a director with enormous visual

flair and in particular, the use of colour. At the beginning of his directing career

he made three ‘period melodramas’, Red Sorghum (1987), Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991). Ju Dou was set in a dye-works and you can probably work out from the other two titles that ‘red’ figures strongly in these films. All the films are very carefully ‘composed’ and controlled, so that each

image is almost like an art photograph. At the centre of each image is a very beautiful woman, played in each case by Gong Li. In his last few films, Zhang has

used his new protégé, Zhang Ziyi, who in Hero plays Moon. A cinematographer who rivals Zhang Yimou for visual style in East Asian cinema is Chris Doyle. Although Australian by birth, Doyle settled in Hong Kong to learn his trade and became associated with the films of Wong Kar-Wai. Doyle has been a very ‘experimental’ cinematographer pushing forward the boundaries of what can be achieved on film. The combination of Zhang and Doyle was bound to be special in some way. Complementing the two is Tan Dun, the composer of the score for Crouching Tiger, but generally not a prolific composer for cinema, being known in China and internationally for his symphonic work for the concert hall. The score uses traditional instruments and chants, but is also carefully mixed with sound effects, e.g. in the fight between Nameless and Sky, the sound of rain, the clatter of the blind musician’s stick, the clash of metal when sword meets spear etc. The outcome of the collaboration is a spectacular film that looks like nothing that either man has done before. ''Hero'' tells and retells one story three times:

how an anonymous assassin in ancient China overcomes three rivals. Two of the versions are false, one true. And they seem to come from different worlds: a red one, a blue one and a white one. Doyle described Heroas the Chinese Roshomon.

Add to this a frame tale dominated by shades of black, and a series of flashbacks infused with vibrant greens, and you have a film that functions like a prism. While Zhang and Doyle insist the choice of colors was aesthetic, not symbolic, the coloration itself becomes the movie's theme. ''Part of the beauty of the film is that it is one story colored by different perceptions,'' Doyle says.

Colors:

RED:

Punctuating the flying swordplay of ''Hero'' is a love story between two fabled assassins: Broken Sword, played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Flying Snow, played by Maggie Cheung. Red was the first color Mr. Zhang chose, which

presented Mr. Doyle with an immediate problem: in his work with Hong Kong directors like Wong Kar-wai.

Perhaps the most lyrical action sequence is Flying Snow’s reluctant battle with Moon. Both are clad entirely in red, and the scene takes place in a forest of endlessly falling bright yellow leaves. At times, the leaves almost obscure the women entirely, as the camera swoops around their fight, artfully choreographed by Wei Tung (who directed Jet Li in The Contract Killer and has frequently choreographed fight scenes for John Woo). When, at the end, blood is drawn, the camera lingers for a while on a single drop that slowly falls from

the blade of a sword, and the falling leaves shift to red, intimating Flying Snow’s

feelings of guilt.

In Chinese culture, Red, corresponds with fire, symbolizes good fortune and joy. Red is found everywhere during Chinese New Year and other holidays and family gatherings. A red envelope is a monetary gift which is given in Chinese society during holiday or special occasions. The red color of the packet symbolizes good luck. Red is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is a traditionally symbolic color of happiness; however, as the names of the dead were previously written in red, it may be considered offensive to use red ink for Chinese names in contexts other than official seals.

In modern China, red remains a very popular color and is affiliated with and used by the Communist government.

presented Mr. Doyle with an immediate problem: in his work with Hong Kong directors like Wongred envelope is a monetary gift which is given in Chinese society during holiday or special occasions. The red color of the packet symbolizes good luck. Red is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is a traditionally symbolic color of happiness; however, as the names of the dead were previously written in red, it may be considered offensive to use red ink for Chinese names in contexts other than official seals. In modern China, red remains a very popular color and is affiliated with and used by the Communist government. " id="pdf-obj-5-23" src="pdf-obj-5-23.jpg">

BLUE:

The filmmakers decided to stage the climax of the second story on a magnificent lake in the Jiuzhaigou cq region of China, and the color of the water, inspired them to make this section blue. The resulting lack of contrast between characters and setting was intentional. ''The thing about color is that it's like light,'' Mr. Doyle says. ''In order to see darkness on film, you need a bright spot

in some part of the frame. In other words, you need a contrast. In this film you're totally surrounded by one color, and that's very rare.''

In Chinese tradition, Blue represents conserving, healing, relaxation, exploration, trust, calmness, immortality. In the movie, the scene at the library also takes place in Blue, when Nameless narrates that he goes to Flying Snow and Broken Sword, in efforts to win over their trust, to achieve the greater good. It also signifies exploration as according to the narrative, it is the moment when the two assassins get to exploresomething that can destroy their current belief, which itself, was symbolized in the scene in the destruction of the library.

BLUE: The filmmakers decided to stage the climax of the second story on a magnificent lake
BLUE: The filmmakers decided to stage the climax of the second story on a magnificent lake

Green:

Woven through the variously colored stories of ''Hero'' are green flashbacks -- in one, Mr. Leung enters a palace hung with floating green curtains. While most of the movie's bold colors were achieved by using filters and processing the film in unusual ways and using filters, the curtains had to be color-corrected on a computer to get the exact shade the filmmakers were after.

Green is the color of knowledge. Generally green is associated with health, prosperity, nausea, and harmony.

Separately, green hats are associated with infidelity and used as an idiom for a cuckold.

Green: Woven through the variously colored stories of ''Hero'' are green flashbacks -- in one, Mr.hats are associated with infidelity and used as an idiom for a cuckold. White: In the third section of ''Hero,'' When Maggie Cheung rushes to save her lover she rides by a dramatic backdrop of cliffs that, Mr. Doyle says, ''look like old walls falling apart.'' Having decided to shoot a key part of the third tale in a desert near the border with Kazakhstan, the filmmakers picked the white of the desert at noon for the costumes in this section. When it came to actually shooting there, however, the crew found the desert at noon beautiful but unendurable; they had to wait until later in the day to shoot, when it was cool enough to work. White symbolizes brightness, purity, and fulfillment. White is also the color of mourning. It is associated with death and is used predominantly in funerals in Chinese culture. Ancient Chinese people wore white clothes and hats only when they mourned for the dead. " id="pdf-obj-7-15" src="pdf-obj-7-15.jpg">

White:

In the third section of ''Hero,'' When Maggie Cheung rushes to save her lover she rides by a dramatic backdrop of cliffs that, Mr. Doyle says, ''look like old walls falling apart.'' Having decided to shoot a key part of the third tale in a desert near the border with Kazakhstan, the filmmakers picked the white of the desert at noon for the costumes in this section. When it came to actually shooting there, however, the crew found the desert at noon beautiful but unendurable; they had to wait until later in the day to shoot, when it was cool enough to work.

White symbolizes brightness, purity, and fulfillment. White is also the color of mourning. It is associated with death and is used predominantly in funerals in Chinese culture. Ancient Chinese people wore white clothes and hats only when they mourned for the dead.

Conclusion: Zhang Yimou has split the movie into four chapters. Each chapter is symbolized by a

Conclusion:

Zhang Yimou has split the movie into four chapters. Each chapter is symbolized by a specific color. It starts with red, then moves to blue and green before concluding with the Chinese color for mourning - white. In the film, red represents the narrow mindedness of different positions, blue represents approval of plans, green represents turmoil, whereas white, refers arrival to the same conclusion via different paths.

The color scheme is present in the characters as well. Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk's character is transformed from a beauty in red at the beginning of the film to a grieving woman in white by the end.

From the box-like enclosure of the Black/Grey sequences, we move into the disjunctive and disunited labyrinth of the Red sequence that contrasts with the perfect unity of the Blue sequence, the fluidity of the Green sequence and the vast expansions of drought and negative space of the desert scenes in the White sequence. The final moments of the film brings the viewers back full circle into the coffin-like confinement of the Black/Grey sequence which begins the film. Yet interestingly, the final shot of the movie is that of the Great Wall of China which though is a wall meant to exclude and confine, yet nevertheless expands into the distance so far, its end is that of which cannot be perceivable by the naked eye.

References:

2.

2. Fox, Jeremy C. “ An Engaging, Visually Rich Martial Arts Film/Hero ” . May 12,

Fox, Jeremy C. An Engaging, Visually Rich Martial Arts Film/Hero. May 12, 2006.

2. Fox, Jeremy C. “ An Engaging, Visually Rich Martial Arts Film/Hero ” . May 12,

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