2017 will see the release of ZhangYimou’s Latest film, The Great Wall.
The Chinese epic will star Matt Damon and while many will accuse it of white wash, for Yimou fans it will be another chance to delve into his breathtaking worlds and imagery. The Chinese director has delighted eyes and ears for almost 30 years. His films are known not only for their Kung Fu action but also stunning use of the Chinese landscape.
Here is just a short selection of the films I think showcase the beauty of the Chinese director.
Raise the Red Lantern
This is an earlier film by Yimou and is the first time Gong Li features. Filmed in 1991 it features all the intrigue and personal pain that you get from his characters while also creating amazing set pieces. His sets are like paintings that have come to life. A chase scene across a snow-covered rooftop in Imperial China is a fantastic example. You can almost feel the cold in your knuckles as you follow Gong Li’s character. Of course red lanterns play an important part and turn rooms in the mansion the film is set in, into photography dark rooms almost.
While appearing a more typical Wuxia film, the actual look and colours used directly play a part in the story. Various colours represent different possible timelines. Camera filters and landscapes are used to create each colour pallet for certain flashbacks. Even the wardrobes of characters play a major factor with linen billowing across the screen as you see characters from a fight scene to intense debate.
House of the Flying Daggers
House of the Flying Daggers is my personal favourite Zhang Yimou film. It champions all the best things about Chinese fill in one film. The historical events are linked together with spellbinding scenes, most notably one in particular involving bamboo. It also contains a beautiful scene set in a brothel where a soldier plays a game with a concubine involving drums and stones. Zhang Ziyi’s character must fire her dress like a sword across the room to match a drum pattern all while being backed by intense traditional Erhu music.
Curse of the Golden Flower
Focusing on family tension rather than the grander scale of his previous films, Curse of the Golden Flower makes up for it’s lack of scale by setting the film inside a royal court. The film is more about relationships than sword fights but its subject matter is just as violent. Yimou makes sure to frame it all within a striking gold colour approved for a royal family. The incredible costumes play a massive part as the characters seem to merge with the golden palace behind them. It is as if we are seeing ghosts emerge from the walls to play out a story from a time gone by.
The Flowers of War
The Great Wall is not the first time Yimou has worked with Hollywood royalty. In 2009 he teamed up with Christian Bale for a harrowing film set in the Nanking massacre. It is a different period than Yimou is used to, but he manages to pour his unique style all over it. Huge sets give the true feeling of desperation that would have taken place in the atrocities. Yimou also cleverly uses his wardrobes as a story itself, weaving it into the twist at the end as characters have to imitate others.