Zhang Ymou: great master of color


  • Lia Luzzatto Color and colors
  • Laura del Zoppo




China, cinema, communication, art


As a pioneer of Chinese cinema, has directed a number of films spanning various historical periods, genres and techniques, but if there is a style or technique that really defines it, this is the skilful, symbolic and communicative use of color. Many critics claim that red is the color that voluntarily characterizes his films, but he himself tells how this distinctive preference of his first films was due to the environment in which he grew up in Northern China, in which red for centuries has not only it is the bearer of meanings, but it is also a cultural heritage, a representative sign of a past to be rediscovered and preserved. In fact, many aspects of the culture of this great country converge in the red and in the term that translates it, so much so as to be a metaphor for customs, traditions and feelings. In this research we have tried to go beyond this cliché by taking into consideration the whole of his film production. We analyzed five films: two wuxia films, the first Hero (2002), where the color of the clothes, draperies and sets changes according to the unfolding of the story and the last, Shadow (2018), in which the color belongs directly to the set design and costumes, and which brings us back to the black and white painting that inspired generations of Chinese writers. Then we analyzed three other historical-social films, Red Sorghum (1987), Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991) which represent Chinese society in the 1920s and 1930s. In the analysis of these films we have been able to identify three different ways of using color: one narrative, one symbolic and one that we can define as historical-aesthetic.


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How to Cite

Luzzatto, L. and del Zoppo, L. . (2021) “Zhang Ymou: great master of color”, Cultura e Scienza del Colore - Color Culture and Science, 13(02), pp. 07–12. doi: 10.23738/CCSJ.130201.