VENICE, Italy, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) — Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou said on Friday he used real objects to achieve the desaturated effect in Ying (Shadow), his new martial arts film that premiered Thursday at the Venice Film Festival.
Set in feudal China, Ying tells the story of one of the “shadow” men who impersonated kings and commanders in times of danger.
Zhang told Xinhua in an interview that he had the idea for this movie when he saw seminal Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1980 film Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior), about a petty criminal who gets hired to become the double of a samurai warlord.
Told in elegant visuals featuring a desaturated palette that draws on traditional Chinese ink brush painting and the yin-and-yang symbol, Zhang’s film alternates exquisitely composed and designed interior scenes with spectacular battle sequences in perennially rain-drenched exteriors — in which umbrellas are turned into weapons.
“The use of the umbrellas was my personal creation, but they are based on the yin and yang concept in Chinese esthetics,” the acclaimed director said.
“When you have a strong, tough power you must counteract it with soft power, so yin energy overcomes yang energy,” he explained. “The umbrella becomes very shiny and slippery in the rain, so the concept is: discharging the force of the enemy.”
As far as the drained color palette of the film, Zhang explained that he eschewed computer-generated effects in favor of set design, building complex structures in specifically colored materials, and using rain-making machines.
“These days you can do a lot on the computer, for example, change a color film into a black and white one,” he said.
“Instead, I decided to use real objects to achieve the desaturated effect: everything on the set, every prop, costume and weapon, had to be black, white or a combination of the two.”
“Of course there were not enough rainy days, so we set up a special team in charge of making rain,” said the director, who worked on the screenplay for three and a half years and shot the movie in three and a half months, using a crew of “500-600 people” that included 15 stuntmen.
“We had machines with different-sized spouts to obtain the kind of rain we wanted for each scene — big drops, small drops, drizzling drops,” he said.
“We shot under this water constantly, so the actors were always drenched.”
The interplay between masculine and feminine, yin and yang, is a strong theme in his movie, and Zhang said that the younger female character played by 21-year-old supporting actress Guan Xiaotong “represents contemporary young Chinese women who live in the big cities — a kind of headstrong and non-conformist girl who doesn’t want to accept adults’ standards.”
“I like this character because she is different from the others, who are all struggling for power and survival,” Zhang said.
“She is not struggling for power, but for respect — that’s why she decides to engage in battle. She represents young people’s desire for independence and freedom.”
Asked what would be his advice to young filmmakers today, Zhang said: “I would tell them to insist on their own style and their own ideas, to find good stories, develop their characters, and maintain their peculiarities.”
The Venice Film Festival, now in its 75th edition, ends on Sept. 8.