Friday, September 17, 2004


I've actually been trying to get this post finished and up for about a week. Things have been hectic! I guess if I didn't take extra Arabic classes there would be more time to finish things up, but sometimes you do things for yourself.
At any rate, last weekend I saw Hero, and what a movie it is. A warning if you haven't seen it, I'm going to write liberally, which will most likely include spoilers. You may want to stop here.
Overall, it was one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. The others that come to mind for sheer cinematographic (is that a word?) beauty are Legends of the Fall and Seven Years in Tibet (mind you, I said "cinematographic" beauty, not beauty of fake accents). Both of those were breathtaking, but in a "Wow what great shots of those amazing mountains" kind of way. Hero is different. The beauty is orchestrated and arranged with intentional color. I saw one other Chinese movie several years ago (I wish I could remember its name) that also used flowing, brightly colored silk--in fact it was set in a silk dyer's workshop--and it had fantastic scenes of this beautiful hanging silk, which ultimately went up in flames. At any rate, these three movies are the only ones I can think of that rival the visual beauty of Hero.
(Bonus observation: Possibly the most beautiful thing in the film? The banners of the emperor's army with a red flower followed by a string of stars.)
That said, It's the symbology of the colors that I want to get into, because there is no way that these were arbitrary. Jet Li, the unnamed assassin, first approaches the emperor wearing black. In his story of defeating the other three assassins, they all wear red. Then the emperor's reinterpretation of what may have happened casts the people (and even the library) in blue. The unnamed assassin retorts with what really happened, and everyone is wearing white until within that version Broken Sword tells his story of meeting Snow, in which everyone wears green. It's then back to white as events unfold and word of the unnamed assassin's death reaches Broken Sword and Snow.
Therefore, I think it breaks down like this:
Red: prosperity, visibility, energy. This is the version the unnamed assassin would like the emperor to believe about his rise to prominence above the assassins. Here he actually defeats the others and claims to be a faithful servant to the emperor.
Blue: knowledge. As noted, even the library changed colors this time. This is the emperor's best guess as to true events. Blue reigns over the realm of ideas in an etherial manner, which I think would hold true in both western and Chinese color readings. (And by the way, if the banners weren't the most beautiful thing in the movie, people in blue fighting over a mountain lake was.)
White: bare truth, in a way. This was the hardest to pin down, but it seems to symbolize all of the straightforward realities of life: certainly death and a struggle against forces greater than one's own, but also purity: this is the color of actual events and of people acting after their ideals.
Green: new life, harmony, hope, and family. This is the history between Broken Sword and Snow, and a rememberance of a time when the world was wide open to possibility.
Black: harsh reality, and ultimately death. Assassins bringing death wear black. The emperor and his army wear black. Black always spreads across the screen as the ultimate, unescapable fate.
I can't wait to have this one for my DVD collection.


Uncle Vernon said...

Hero was a fantastic movie. I didn't know what to expect other than a 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' type of film. Nothing similar. I also loved the cinematography (yes, the word is cinematography) and the colors that they chose. I wish I would have gone into the movie understanding color symbolism a little more. Unfortunately I don't think the people I saw it with (not mentioning names) liked it as much as I did. But they all agreed that the scenery was beautiful. The only improvement I think needed to be made to the movie was in the area of special effects. Some of the fighting scenes were nothing more than actors tied up to wire like puppets. It was so obvious that I found it distracting. And China has both the technology and the know-how to do good special effects which makes me wonder why they didn't go the extra mile for such a big movie? But the best part of the movie was figuring out all the hidden motives, symbols, etc. Great film.

Izzybella said...

I haven't seen this one yet--another one to add to my very long list of movies-I-gotta-see. But the bit about the colors was interesting. We actually spent quite a lot of time on color in my scene design class. If you want to get really into it, there are entire theories on psychology of colors. My professor showed me a scene design which was meant to convey a very, very cold atmosphere. They used grays and blues both in the set construction and the lights. One of the ways he knew the design was a success was the multiple complaints about the chilly temperature of the theatre, despite the fact that temperature in that particular building was kept at about 79 degrees. Usually, they're complaining because the theatre was too hot. I just thought that was interesting.

Super Smart Genius said...

Hmm, your lauds for the beauty of Legends and Tibet would have nothing to do with the appearance of Brad Pitt in each of these films? Better add The Mexiacan to the list. But seriously now, if we're discussing cinematography you've left out what we agreed was the greatest shot ever filmed--from Amelie, where she's skipping stones in the river and the shot pans over the bridge. Genius.