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…

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

… continuing Color.

Through recent examples of good and bad (of course as everything, the term bad is relative to each and everyone’s sense of taste, but I’ll use it, hence forth, as a reference to the use of color correction in a way that doesn’t help increase the viewers or retain a well balanced movie, not making it a memorable or enjoyable piece of art/product), I will further demonstrate the U.S.’s influence over what has been done in Asia, and how, sometimes, that influence isn’t always beneficial to the receiving party.

Starting with good examples of how appropriate and how color correction increases some movies appeal on an audience, I have chosen the movies – Aftershock, Love in a Puff, Detective Dee, Under the Hawthorne Tree, The Stool Pigeon and Monga, The Man from Nowhere and 13 Assassins.

All of these movies are from the last 3 years (production and release) and are all from several countries from Asia (Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong). All have been shot on film or digital (with the Red, the Alexa or Panavision cameras, etc), and all have been shot by very different Directors and Cinematographers. Some are technically groundbreaking, others help the Asian market fight with its American and European counterparts at a level playing field for an enthusiastic but growingly judgmental audience.

Let us start with Aftershock.

The movie is set during the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976 to the “present day”, so, even thought its set in the recent past, the collective memory of the public is still highly influenced by photographic and video depictions (here by the quality of cameras existing in China at the time and not in the rest of the world) of that single event.

The movie is shot in an extremely somber grey/brown color palette with its main focus, the destruction evidenced by a catastrophic movement on the earth’s core and the somber reality lived by the family after the earthquake and the choices made during it.

This visual choice makes the image and story on the screen become stronger and more appealing to the public as they are not being visually manipulated into feeling excited or vulnerable or tired over seeing a devastating event and ensuing suffering through manipulative color aberrations.

Using earth tones and softer graded greys even helps the filmmakers in some scenes (where some of the effects or time transitions may feel artificial) get away with pretty much anything throughout the more dramatic/death infused scenes. This monotonic color scheme ends up hiding some otherwise evident mistakes as the audience isn’t being blasted by vibrant and distracting colors (if an explosion happens with vibrant reds, yellows and oranges, but isn’t to the liking of the audience, their attention is easily lost in unnecessary effects shots, or even necessary but unattainably better shots).

There isn’t any doubt why Aftershock did so well in the box office and dvd sales in Asia, as it is a very solidly constructed film, from its incisive story line to the evident control of every detail in color, cinematography and tone and its team’s decisions to make the movie more event grounded over visually “vibrantly” appealing.

At the other side of the box office success pool we have Love in a Puff. The movie was in all accounts a disaster when it came out but, through very good word of mouth and reviews, the movie ended up making its fair amount of money to support its makers, becoming a weird conundrum in the Hong Kong internal movie market.

One of the most common reviews and criticisms (from professionals and viewers alike) was that the movie, even though it had its faults, it “spoke real” to people. This term is widely used when talking about documentaries and extremely visceral, dramatic movies, but Love in a Puff is a somewhat quirky comedy where smoke and the relationships ensuing over its, now recent, social persecution, takes the center stage.

The creators nonetheless, instead of adding immense quantities of smoke and making the image bland and with a small color differential (here maybe realizing that a flat approach on the color spectrum would surely repel the viewers, as the Hong Kong smog is itself already abundantly evident on a day by day basis), went in a different direction, and tried to make the movie color intuitive with a palette closer to the Technicolor scheme of the Kodak years, but toned slightly down (exuberant highlights but a color scheme that appreciates the colors instead of blowing them).

This decision, makes for simple, calm and perfectly lit scenes on the outside (here the white color of the sunlight and the clean darks of the city, make for a beautifully romantic city, where its main characters find companionship even in the supposed dark corners of the streets), and vibrant and soft coloring/lighting on the inside scenes (the purple, blue, black and grey, aren’t excessively contoured or selected in the frames, but are evidently apparent during the scenes, and make for a very appealing mise en scène).

These two examples, even though coming from different sides of the production reel, and from two “largely” different markets, showcase how a carefully controlled and decided color scheme/cinematography, further increase a movies possibilities over its fledgling although highly competitive markets.

Color Continued…