When watching a film

Published 04 May 2017

When watching a film, an audience will often simple enjoy the film on a purely entertainment level, however, it is also important to look beyond the surface and understand what director is trying to say thematically. Pointing out the director’s thematic concerns, however, is most difficult task. Of the many underlying themes in the film Ju Dou, I would like to discuss director Zhang Yi-mou’s use of colors in the film and how they tie into thematic concerns.

The fifth generation of Chinese film directors is my personal favorite groups and among those directors and among them I especially appreciate Zhang Yi-mou’s work. The fifth generation is widely known for their use of colors and they often reveal their thoughts through this use of colors; in particular, Zhang Ti-mou’s detailed and sophisticated use of colors is downright astonishing.

In a manner similar to most of Zhang Yi-mou’s films such as Hero, Red Sorghum and The City of Golden Armor, one of his early works Ju Dou presents a visual style that is very rich in colors. Within those previously mentioned films, I noticed that the color “red” appears significantly throughout Zhang Yi-mou’s work and it is also a dominant color in the film Ju Dou. Zhang Yi-mou use of the color is not only for visual allure, but also to reveal themes of love, desire, and death.

For example, the color red first appears when the character Tianqing pours red paint into the water to dye fabric. As this red paint spreads in the water, it implies the starting of forbidden love within the family. This red color mostly appears when Tianqing and Ju Ddou are spending time together; when talking, laughing, and having sex. Also, as is similar to many other films, red also indicates death in this particular film. Although Tianqing and Ju Dou always wanted to be free from Jinshan, they could not kill him. However Jinshan finally dies because young Tianbai’s unfortunately drowns in red dye. After Jinshan’s death, though, this red color does not appear as often as before but other colors seem to appear more freqently.

Although red is dominant color, by having main setting of the movie be a “dye mill”, Zhang Yi-mou is able to use various colors besides red throughout the movie. For example, there is a color of yellow is employed to emphasize Ju Dou’s beauty. Most often when focused on Gong Li’s face, a fabric dyed in yellow is featured on her back. Blue is used as well and it is designed to indicate tragedy in this film. For example, after Jinshan was unable to use his lower body, there is a scene of Tianbai playing around inside of the dye mill. Jinshan then tries to kill Tianbai by drowning him in blue dye. Although Jinshan failed on his mission, blue dye was featured prominently to subtly imply impending tragedy in the future.

Colors are not only appear in the form of dyed fabrics but also in various other ways. Zhang Yi-mou used almost every object imaginable within a specific color scheme so as to evoke a certain emotional response. For example, he revealed the tragedy of the future through the image of a blue sky and additionally revealed desire and death through the image of fire. However, the most important thing to understand Ju Dou’s color changes on her clothing. Ju Dou’s cloth color changes to correspond with changes in time throughout the movie. For example, when Ju Dou first arrived into Jinshan’s house she was wearing yellow clothing. When Jinshan starts to hurt Ju Dou, she wears blue. After Ju Dou and Tianqing fall in love, clothing is red. Before Jinshan dies she wears blue and, then, after his death she wears black.

Upon close examination of the film Ju Dou, Zhang Yi-mou clearly reveals underlying themes about characters through these colors. The story of forbidden love can be a very sensitive topic for film and using unique presentations of color, the theme of forbidden love is presented in a subtle manner. This underscores Zhang Yi-mou skill as an amazing director quite effectively.

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