America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World VIII

… Color, continuing.

True Legend and The Lost Bladesman, although coming from two very different cinematographers, come from the same production country/market (Hong Kong/China) and came out within a year of each other. Nevertheless, they are two very similar movies in terms of color, grading, hue/saturation and even overall visual style.

Thematically the two movies are close, one is a Chinese legend/myth, the other, fictional musings of possible past events. They are both set in ancient China and both have a large component of martial arts and ancient theatricality. Visually though, they’re mostly indistinguishable and that’s their biggest flaw. The movies are shot as though there was some discoloration of the palette of their colors, as though there was some desaturation of the image because of the time they were presented, the problem is, that this discoloration is simply random/unrefined.

Every color is almost a pastel of itself, making them blend into each other, True Legend taking a more earthy tone and The Lost Bladesman, having a more bluish hue to the image. Every color that is, except red. The reds pop out. They are exuberant but, instead of creating a sense of confluity in the image, or even, of being a target color, their tone is so pushed into the pink, that at times, the color just becomes silly. Blood looks like someone chewed some cherry bubblegum and smeared it in the face of the actors, and the red clothes, more often than not, almost look like African clay sculptures (even if that was the point, or even to implement a sense of historical background, then the red would take an earthy tone too not breaking with the idea that the image is older than normal, as it stands, it seems as though whomever colored the clothes/image, forgot that the Vermilion pigment not only was a royal color, but that it symbolised eternity and life – not the color in which every single goon or soldier should be slain in).

There are some seasonal shadings that look really nice on the screen (the fadings of Autumn in The Lost Bladesman and the coldness of morning in True Legend), but then are completely overtaken by light that seems out of place (and hence dilutes the colors, making them seem more modern than expected). Overall, the color correction seems a bit, rushed.

Like the two movies reviewed before, Alien vs Ninja  and Future X Cops , albeit both being very strange genre selections and with stories that tend to confuse (but that’s something for another type of conversation) end up suffering with the choice to maintain their color as untouched (no visual contamination between the spectrum) and in some situations as fake as possible (the idea is that it the color is created to appeal to a “futuristic” minded person digitizing some of the normal hues and pushing all the colors to make them look as shiny as possible).

This plasticky look is often associated with children’s movies, not because the movies themselves are childish or dumb (once again, story here is irrelevant), but because this type of color stimulation appeals to a broader audience (here film – as a mass production tool with the main objective to make money by over-stimulation of the audience, advertising effect over quality, shady techniques instead of actual filmic mastery), like cartoons or slapstick comedy, by bombarding them with the existence of color and their emotional pulls.

The problem with these movies is that the color is just simply over-saturated for the sake of “comical” effect, creating a tyring image that further confuses the audience into being attracted by the explosions, blood and comic relief, rather than paying attention to the movie itself (selective color correction has the intent to avert/attract the audience’s eyes/attention to wherever the filmmaker desires, if this effect is pushed to all the colors of the visual range, all the time, then the movie becomes the equivalent of a sugar rush when its seen, only to be followed by a strong, emotional and physical letdown after its consumed), and end up let down by the movie after they’ve seen it.

Lastly, lets take a look at A Beautiful Life, the Andrew Lau directed, 2011 romantic comedy.

A Beautiful Life suffers from the “Summer Movie” syndrome of late, so well established by the American influence over what we see in the film theater between May and September every year.

Cold lights are blue (fluorescent), warm are yellow (almost orange at times), the sun is as white as possible and the night shots have a certain glow to them (wet city, soft focus shots, etc), but, amazingly, the actors skin color tends to become the same from shot to shot (an earthy beige with slashes of orange and soft cerise).

This type of color correction is a midway between a technicolor color skew and the Teal/Orange mix. A midway. Which means that throughout the movie, it itself becomes at times as inconsistent as the range of colors it portrays, looking more like we are watching a 70’s ad magazine instead of a present day set love story. The soft blues in the light make the male character seem weak at times and the pinks/beige used by the female character make her seem more like an archetypal whinny diva than a naive/world thorn socialite.

Nevertheless, it does look beautiful. A Beautiful Life as a frame by frame picture exhibition could perfectly reflect some of the problems we see in filmmaking nowadays but it’d never be a dull or even inexpressive exhibit. That’s exactly its problem. There’s too much happening in the image, too much manipulation, too many ideas floating around. Its a patterned correction, a commonly used color grading, beautiful for stills, tiring, flacid and common in filmic form.

A Beautiful Life is manipulative color correction at its best, the problem is, it detracts from the movie. We as an audience are constantly thinking – “Oh, they look so beautiful… Oh that’s a beautiful shot”, instead of actually watching the movie.

Color continued…

America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World VII

… continuing Color.

I left as a last example the movie 13 Assassins by Takashi Miike and Nobuyasu Kita because, even though it was a market success, the movie itself and how it looks is a conundrum.

The movie is set in 1840, but chromatic and image wise, there isn’t a single detail of the post-production, color correction or even art color selection, that might trigger in the audience that they’re watching the era.

Other than the theme, characters and the action, the movie could have happened 160 years, 300 years or 80 years ago in Japan. And that’s Miike’s biggest weapon in the movie. Although it is a semi-historical, metaphorical recount of what happened in feudal Japan at the time, it is as present as the director.

It was shot in 35mm but the image is so clean and well lit, that at times it looks like it is a digital capture of a documentary (filmed with our present technology) set in 1840.

Blood is cold and visually dissipated, the flames are yellowish but dim, and the moonlight a strangely hued soft white/blue. The entire environment is surrounded by the browns, greys and blacks of wood, kimonos and earth/soot.

Even though it is an extremely violent and sometimes morally aggressive film, the image is so raw that one is connected to it and the social and moral struggle survived by the 13 samurai is almost as if it is lived within the audience, as though the viewer is inside what is happening.

This feeling of connectedness, of association of reality to a projected image is brilliantly achieved through the rawness of the image and the appeal and calmness of the soothing and expertly distributed browns and greys of the movie.

Asian films have been correcting their color, image and choosing their stock since there’s been film in the area. Kurosawa’s beautiful black and white films were so well shot that some of them, almost seemed like colors would gush out on the screen if the viewer paid enough attention.

Yimou and Woo and Wong Kar Wai are long purporters of the control and manipulation of  the visual style of what is presented in the screen and are World Renown for it.

A still frame from their movies is almost a painting in how brilliantly selected and exampled colors are dragged into their stories.

But there are bad and sometimes wrong examples of films that use and abuse color correction and its effect on the audience to such an effect, that the films themselves, start becoming anecdotal, if not completely shun by the public.

I will choose the films Future X Cops, The Storm Warriors, Alien vs. Ninja, True Legend, A Beautiful Life and The Lost Bladesman.

Like it was said before, like these movies, a lot of others could have been selected, but let me use these 6 examples to capture a broader sense of the downfalls of a sometimes broad, if not, uninformed approach in color for film.

Lets start with The Storm Warriors.

The Storm Warriors is a 2009 Hong Kong film directed by the Pang brothers, backed by the visuals of Thailandese cinematographer Decha Srimantra.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great visuals and fight scenes in Storm Warriors. But there’s something wrong on screen.

The color adjustments are done so as to stylise the film, but end up making it far from coherent. Some of the corrections on the blues and greys of the film, give them such a plasticky look that a great percentage of the costumes not only seem fake, but they look extremely flimsy.

The highlights and shadows vary from scene to scene, depending on the fight setup presented (although they’re consistent in an overall sense, the small variations in color for similar clothes presented in different setups, at times, is bothersome) and skin tones drastically change – their saturation constantly depends on the light and clothes on the scene, making the characters always seem “unnatural” and in essence impossible to empathize with.

As an extremely stylized film, Storm Warriors at times is brilliant (the fight scenes in the water, the supper slow-motion scenes in the mountains for example), but ends up suffering too much from the chromatic decisions it presents (the golds, browns and blues are at times interesting, but end up creating pretentious characters, instead of emphasizing their ambitions and strength).

Being too realistic at times, doesn’t give the viewers a consistency in interpretation that then is completely overthrown by the surreality of some shots.

It is based on a comic book novel, and maybe it should have gone a bit further into the extreme showcase of a comic book theatricality in a chromatic and visual sense not holding back (as an example we have Sin City, Mistery Men and/or the Batman series) its inherent visual spectrum to give way to a realistic/dramatic value that might not be necessary for such a stylized film.

Color Continued…