Starring: Wang Xueqi, Bai Xue, Tuo Tan
Director: Chen Kaige
Running Time: 86 mins
Yellow Earth is a Chinese film about a Communist soldier who travels to a remote Northern village during the war against Japan to collect folk songs for the army.
It may look more minimalistic than anything you’ve ever seen, but Yellow Earth is a fantastic and beautiful film. With some stunning direction, cinematography and scoring, complemented a unique story, this is a film that will keep you unexpectedly engrossed as it slowly builds into a brilliantly powerful film.
The most striking thing about this film is the way it looks. On the face of things, the barren wasteland of a setting isn’t so appealing, and combined with the fact that the camera technology at the time of filming wasn’t so clear either, this film may not immediately appear so appealing.
However, the ugly grey landscape is brilliantly contrasted with a wealth of colours across the course of the film. The most impressive of all is the way in which the young girl, Cui Qiao, wearing a red dress, stands out so brightly against the background. It has a very similar effect to the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List, and it’s absolutely ingenious, and brilliant to see work out so well.
There are a heap of more brilliant cinematographic techniques here (done by famous director Zhang Yimou), including the imagery of the sky, the rolling hills, and the dark interiors of the peasants’ houses, and it all comes together to give you that sense of deep desperation, but with glimmers of hope emerging through the darkness.
Chen Kaige’s directing is just as impressive as the cinematography. This is a brilliantly-directed film, that tells a story that, whilst moving at a seriously slow pace, becomes amazingly engaging. Chen’s use of the folk songs here is fantastic, and, as well as simply giving you some beautiful music to listen to, gives the film such an elegant atmosphere.
Another ingenious technique of the director was the way that he creates hugely powerful emotion by holding the camera on the face of young Cui Qiao in some of the more gritty scenes. On the one hand, by not seeing what she’s reacting to, and only her emotions, you get an ambiguous, but much more powerful picture in your mind of what’s happening, and, whilst you may never quite find out what’s happening, it’s a brilliantly unique technique that worked an absolute treat.
The story is also very good here. We all know that Chinese films are heavily subject to censorship, but in 1984, that was so much stronger than anything today. However, this film is so well-written, managing to appease the Communist censors by telling a story that’s not overtly political, and also by creating its dark emotion and drama through its cinematic techniques, rather than simply through dialogue.
This film may not be a big melodrama, but it proves the old saying that pictures speak louder than words. The directing and cinematography is hugely impressive, and it turns a slow, small story into one that’s unexpectedly powerful, and massively engrossing to watch, so that’s why Yellow Earth gets an 8.0 from me.