Alphabetical Movie – Hero
Yimou Zhang makes some of the most visually arresting films I’ve ever seen. I think that to completely appreciate Hero, I need to watch it once with the sound and subtitles turned off. That way I could completely immerse myself in the look of the film rather than being distracted by the plot.
The story of Hero is a good one but it only takes up around 45 of the film’s 90 minutes. The rest is devoted to fights that are as much about dance as they are about combat and sweeping visuals of remarkable composition. So central is the visual style of the film, I find I don’t have the words to write about it.
Check out a couple of images from the film:
Color – red in these two cases – is used to frame or define action. Red dresses stand out against golden back and foreground elements. One man framed by dozens of red plumes. The film is not shot in color because that is how you are expected to shoot film. It is in color because every color choice is important.
For a modern audience, black and white is death for a film. We expect color but, sadly, I don’t think we really notice it.
Hero actually calls attention to the color. In my life, I rarely notice a single color in my field of vision because there are so many to choose from. I notice them all mashed together. Hero reduces the palette to one or two important colors so you will notice them.
On a broader scale, I think the movies that we consider visually interesting are movies that really understand how to use color photography. I remember a featurette on The Fellowship of the Ring that showed how the computer was used to subtly enhance the color of certain scenes. Mouline Rouge is a vibrantly colorful film. The Matrix went so far as to tint the world of the Matrix green so the viewer would get a feeling there was something “off.”
Yes, The Matrix had amazing action set pieces. What made it more than just “another” action film, however, was the way the story was told and the way the story looked.
Filmmakers tell stories in a visual medium and there are certainly times where the visual is the story. We lose sight of the fact that the early filmmakers were telling their stories entirely without sound or color and they managed to tell stories extremely well.
With all the tools available to the modern filmmaker, it is still impressive when they really embrace the visual medium in a way silent filmmakers had to. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Hugo was the extended opening that could easily have been a silent film.
The flip side of the argument is if a film is beautiful to look at but lacks anything beyond a series of impressive visuals. I think the difference is in whether a film uses the visuals to assist in telling a story or to stand in place of the story.
In Hero, the visuals tell the story to an extent that they could possibly stand on their own. At least that is how it seems to me. Someday, I need to test that theory.