Hero (Ying Xiong)-a myriad of colours (2002)
I confess when I watched my first Zhang Yimou film-Raise the Red Lantern,despite watching it twice (One for personal viewing,the other time for History of Film for the Chinese 5th-6th generation films), I absolutely hated it. No matter how beautiful his cinematography is or Gong Li’s performance. I thought his works are quite terrible til I watched his recent films like The Curse of The Golden Flower and recently Hero. There I get to appreciate his beautiful cinematography and compelling stories. Today I will discuss on the colour scheme of Hero (Ying Xiong) and how it helps to redefine the “Wu Xia” genre.
Here is the story-In the Warring States era in China,we met our protagonist Nameless (Jet Li) who travelled a journey to tell the Emperor about his success of murdering 3 notorious asssaissns. However it was not what it seems. It may sound familiar to another film Rashomon (1950) by Akira Kurosawa in the narrative aspects. Yes we get different accounts on how Nameless actually killed the assassins,we the audience do not know which account is true or not. Actually Zhang Yimou cited Rashomon as the inspiration for the script for Hero. I could called it the colour version of Rashomon so I would dissect on the colour scheme of Hero.
Firstly we enter the film-Hero,where we meet our main character-Nameless. Everything was almost monochromatic,it was filled with nothing but neutrals. Black represent the somber nature as Nameless comes up to the Emperor to tell his story. In Chinese culture Black was regarded as the King of colours. So it’s quite appropriate that the emperor is wearing black here.
I did some readings from Cinematographer Christopher Doyle (He is the DOP behind Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood of Love and Chungking Express),he actually expressed that Asian Cinema rarely used red as they are afraid it would stereotype China’s imagery. Well it was until In The Mood of Love til Doyle boldly used red in here. Red expressed passion and anger. It could be seen as an aggressive colour. Here we were given Nameless’ story that he managed to kill two assassins by deceiving each other,for Broken Sword’s betrayal by making love to his maid (This was added to the best sex scenes ever despite being brief-who can’t love the cloth folding image) and of course Flying Snow’s Anger.
Here it is the Emperor’s version of the story-Blue usually stand for calmness and in Chinese Culture stands for immortality. Here the Emperor seen them as calm,rational individuals who were willing to go with Nameless to kill the emperor. It was interesting they fight in the water-which stands for life. In the end it was Flying Snow who died as she sacrificed her life for the kingdom.
Here it’s Nameless’s second story to convince the emperor here. Green represents life,in chinese culture-it represent harmony and health. It was interesting that they used green as it could represent envy here as Flying Snow was perhaps jealous that her partner did not succeeded in killing the king. Both are never killed in this segment.
Here this perhaps it was the truth behind that story. It was interesting that they chosen white as it have various interpretations. In Chinese culture-it represents death whilst in Western traditions,it represents purity and justice. I found that sequence interesting as they used the desert as the setting and some shots remind me of Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Maybe Zhang Yimou wanted us to understand the idea of barrenness and the lack of understanding here. China is vast but however it could be conquered.
However we came back to Black,and in the end after hearing various stories,we do not know whenever it was true or not? But we do know that great sacrifices have to be made in order to create peace. Even the emperor seems unsound despite Nameless sparing him form his murder. The ironic thing is that Nameless was buried as a hero,perhaps there is some distortion of truth.