As far as film is concerned, I believe film maker Zhang Yimou has created a masterpiece with Hero. With stunning photography, intricate choreography, great acting, and an intriguing story, how could one disagree? The photography, mise en scene, ideology, acting, and narration, all blend together to reveal poetic reverence, philosophy, and questions of ethics. Yimou has composed a film which not only dazzles us with astonishing martial arts choreography, but also contains philosophical depth, causing us to examine our own moral integrity.
The photography of Hero is possibly most beautiful and vibrant that I have ever seen on film. The director and cinematographer work together, using light and color in a way that creates aesthetic pleasure and well as symbolic significance. Color is so dominant in this film, it might as well be a character itself; it is impossible to ignore. Color is mainly used as a way of discriminating between stories, as they are recalled differently each time. The first sequence is portrayed in red, the second in blue, and the last is white, with the character wearing robes of the respective colors. These changes in color not only help differentiate between stories, but they saturate each scene with emotion and symbolic significance. The first color we see depicted with strong relevance is red. The color is associated with love, lust, passion, but a can quickly turn into anger and hatred. Sure enough, this story begins with jealousy, leading to infidelity, leading to murderous rage. One clear example of this red passion was when Broken Sword, in a fit of jealousy, grabs his apprentice Moon and has his way with her. In this scene all we see is a silken red sheet, with outline of both their bodies twirling beneath. Another exquisite example of photography is the fight between Flying Snow and Moon. Their flowing red robes stand out even more in contrast to the vibrant green leaves
which swirl around them. The blue saturation of the the second retelling makes me think of nature, and adds to the serene, peaceful tone of this story. Nameless and Broken Sword have a battle, which more resembles a dance, spinning and jumping across a crystal blue lake which matches their robes. In the last story, which happens to be the true story, the character all wear white robes. This last story is also the most dramatic and heartbreaking of all. In China, white is the color worn at funerals, and signifies death and mourning. This color is especially appropriate for this scene, in which Flying Snow, unable to cope with the loss of her lover, takes her own life.
The mise en scene in Hero seems to correlate directly to the overall tone and ideology of the film. This film idealizes unity, nature, and oneness. Director Zhang Yimou places figures and objects within the frame the way one would place rocks and plants in a Zen garden. His images are like watching poetry on film. In one frame, we may see a single bead of water as it splashes into a gleaming metal blade. In another, there is a close up of an old man’s hand as he plucks a single string of his instrument. These images are simple, yet speak so much of elegance and perfection. The mise en scene also depicts a contrast between the individual and the masses of people. One frame may show an endless army of Chinese soldiers, such as the ones guarding the Emperor. There are other frames shot from over head and far away, in which a solitary figure stands alone, mid-frame, surrounded by the vast landscape. One such scene is when our hero Nameless ascends the steps up to the Emperor’s throne. Nameless is just a small figure of a man, rendered insignificant by the magnificence of these castle steps, which seem endless, and take up the entire frame. Even the hero’s name, or lack thereof, seems to reinforce this choice of mise en scene, which itself is influence by the ideology of the film.
This film is very philosophical in its tone. It clearly idealizes the philosophies...
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