Colour Blossoms (HK - DVD)
We've taken a look at contemporary Chinese director Yonfan's poetic erotica, introducing various newcomers to the Asian ...
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Velvety camera work, an eerie soundtrack and S&M – it’s all in a day’s work for specialist Chinese director Yonfan, who has over three decades worth of contemporary cinema under his belt. What a pity that only now have I experienced the talents of this gifted individual. His latest opus, Colour Blossoms, revolves around five sexually charged characters and illustrates the tension when their lives intertwine with each other.
Meili (Teresa Cheung) is a HK estate agent who has been given the elaborate task of renting out Madam Umeki’s gorgeous apartment. However the owner will only rent it out to a tenant who is truly special. Along comes a Japanese photographer named Kim (played by model Sho), who instantly draws Meili into a world of lust and seduction. As if one handsome man is not enough in her life, Meili also begins to tease police officer 4708 (Carl Ng). The tension reaches a climax as the fifth character is introduced - a mysterious dominating woman who plans to keep Kim for herself. However nothing is as it seems; the apartment carries a burden that Meili is completely unaware of but is destined to discover.
Colour Blossoms is a remarkably abstract film, expressing raw emotion and temptation as opposed to an explicit storyline. Everything from the plot structure to the director’s choice of editing highlights this fact. Upon initial inspection, the film appears to be a detailed character study of a woman exploring her desires for the first time. On the contrary, Yonfan manipulates the viewer by establishing supernatural and melodramatic elements to create an unusual erotic hybrid. As a result of the unconventional subject matter, Colour Blossoms is vulnerable to not being taken seriously and subsequent mockery. However, mature members of the audience should be able to sit back and appreciate the artistic merit of what Yonfan is trying to portray.
The film displays various ideas of lust and desire but the underlying theme of everlasting love is predominant throughout the movie. Each character represents a piece of the bigger picture – 4708 frustratingly longs for a love that he knows he cannot have. Conversely, Madam Umeki reminisces over a previous passionate affair, yet still she is unhappy. The S&M scenes become a metaphor for pure love withstanding immeasurable pain and sacrifice.
Teresa Cheung is no stranger to the HK media but Colour Blossoms marks her acting debut. Cheung has started her movie career on a peak by delivering such an uncompromising performance. It is almost as if Meili was trapped inside a monotonous character and has only just been granted freedom. In addition, Teresa Cheung is undeniably attractive and has got a lovely set of curves at the right places. Astonishingly, the actress has passed the 40 year mark. Therefore, to have such a wonderful figure and to look so adorable at that age is truly amazing.
Veteran Japanese actress Keiko Matsuzaka transforms into the ecstatically camp, over-the-top drama queen, Madam Umeki, whose presence is always filled with glamour and instantly lights up the scene. Real life South Korean transsexual Ha Ri-su also plays an important role in the film. Ri-su has continually claimed that she is unashamed of who she is, which is precisely the reason Yonfan hired such a confident and persistent actress.
It is worth mentioning how Carl Ng handled the difficult task of playing officer 4708, someone who has no lines and relies on body language to communicate to the other characters, as well as the audience. His facial expression, eye contact and the way he touches inanimate objects are fine examples of non-verbal acting. 4708’s torment is never made implicit, the viewer is fully aware of what he is going through simply by Ng’s body movements. He manoeuvres elegantly with a stern look on his face; his cold stares are fixated upon Meili at all times.
As the title suggests, Colour Blossoms quite often relies on colours and exquisite cinematography to spark a romance with the audience. The shades are carefully selected to adapt with the relating costumes and background objects. A prime example would be the introduction of Ha Ri-su’s character; the screen lights up with a powerful blue pallet. The camera movement is quite often very slow and off-axis. Many frames are in fact tilted to provide an unsure dreamlike mood. Furthermore, Yonfan enjoys following the characters to provide a feeling of voyeurism, which is very much in line with certain chapters of the movie. Consequently, the camera pursues the stars incredibly smoothly thanks to some splendid steady-cam work.
Colour Blossoms is a pleasure to listen to as much as it is to watch. Yonfan travelled to India to seek out one of Bollywood’s greatest composers, Surender Sodhi, who has provided scores for over eighty titles. The music is authentically Indian in style but has been revamped to include synthesisers and other electronic elements. The results include wonderful sonnets and ballads that are slow but dynamic enough to emphasise the onscreen actions. A few chapters also have some poetry recited and turned into songs – one such poem is recited by a deep voiced narrator, who almost sounds like he is describing a 70’s porn movie.
Retrospectively, the film has a unique multi-Asian vibe, employing actresses from HK, Japan and South Korea, featuring cinematography from China and music from India. In order to handle production of this magnitude, it would be expected that Yonfan equally creates a larger than life film. Colour Blossoms is perhaps slightly over-amplified in terms of content, which may lead to confusion and unintentional humour. The lives of these five individuals interact in their own private little world, so there are certain aspects of the film that are difficult to comprehend. However as long as the audience understands the meaning of pure love, pain and sacrifice then Yonfan can rest assured that his messages have been acknowledged. Ultimately, Colour Blossoms makes a refreshing change from all the idols infested, CGI-heavy, totally unfunny rubbish that is being exported from HK these days.
Colour Blossoms is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The cinematographer has utilised an expressive colour pallet, supplying the film with phosphorescent shades and calm monochromes. As a result, the primary and secondary colours are intensely distinct and bold. The warm reds, oranges and even the cold blues simply radiate with fantastic clarity. In terms of sharpness, the image presents admirable details but is perhaps soft on occasion. This is evident when examining hair and facial features, which are sometimes not as clear as they should be. The night scenes are nicely presented, not even the minor objects are lost in the shadows. As with the outstanding colour reproduction, the black levels are obligingly deep and eliminate any traces of grey.
The principal flaw with the transfer is the ridiculous amount of combing and ghosting. Every time a character or the camera moves, the edges leave an unwelcoming trail that greatly spoils an otherwise healthy picture. There is also noticeable edge enhancement, particularly during yellow or orange backgrounds, not to mention around the edge of the frame. Thankfully grain is not too heavy and the shade transition is quite smooth. Lastly, with the vast amount of colours used throughout the film, there is surprisingly very little smearing. Any bleeding is purely minor and undetectable unless the viewer really tries to notice it.
Colour Blossoms is blessed with two soundtracks in Dolby Digital EX 6.1 and DTS ES 6.1. Cantonese is the primary language but Japanese and English is spoken in the film as well. The soundtrack is primarily dialogue based, so there aren’t any sophisticated surround or action effects. All the conversations originate from the centre speaker and considering that the film primarily takes place in the unreachable world of five individuals, there are not any opportunities to take advantage of ambient noise.
Where the audio truly shines is during Sodhi’s unbelievably beautiful score, which resonates blissfully to every corner of the room with incredible aplomb. As mentioned earlier, the music seamlessly blends traditional Indian percussion-driven rhythms with synthesised ballads. In addition, there is a wonderful range of styles that adds enormous diversity into the soundtrack. Each tune is painstakingly separated into the appropriate channels to create a fully orchestrated effect. Even the rear centre speaker plays a vital role in emitting the dynamic vocal solos and chorus segments. The LFE channel rarely gets a moment’s rest, always providing nourishing bass and depth to an already majestic soundtrack.
There is noticeable difference between the Dolby and DTS soundtracks, where the latter is undeniably superior. The music is comparatively richer and more aggressive, without sounding distorted. Even the LFE channel provides greater dimension and integrity.
The disc contains optional English and Chinese subtitles. The English subtitles are of excellent quality and appear at all times. They are legible and nicely paced, making it very easy to read and follow the story.
On the first disc, director Yonfan and producer Fruit Chan provide an audio commentary in Cantonese. Sadly English subtitles are not provided for this.
On the second disc, there is a 26m10s making of documentary, which has optional English and Chinese subtitles. This is quite a thorough featurette, primarily highlighting conversations between director Yonfan and leading lady Teresa Cheung. Cheung explains that the story is like an important chapter in her life and she wanted to make an artistic expression. Yonfan provides a comprehensive understanding of the ideas he wanted to portray and also discusses the characters’ best qualities. Carl Ng and Sho also receive admirable interview time and light-heartedly talk about the sexual tension between all of the characters. A good section of this documentary also explores Surender Sodhi’s involvement with the film, as the music played a vital role in capturing the essence. This is definitely a worthwhile documentary to watch after the film is over and explains some of the more questionable chapters of the movie.
Next up is a 4m50s music video for Solo River Blues, which is a slow Latin American ballad. The video is a montage of ‘behind the scenes’ footage that has been professionally edited to the song’s rhythm. The crew appear to be hard at work but often find time to relax and laugh around. It is quite interesting to view some of the scenes in their natural light, as they look radically different after all those filters.
To finish things off, there is a trailer selection, photo gallery and cast and crew biographies (in both Chinese and English).
Colour Blossoms is a profoundly mesmerising journey of human sensuality and spirituality. Director Yonfan explores the inner depths of love, lust, pleasure and pain in a manner that is neither crude nor perverse. The poetic camerawork, luminous cinematography and Surender Sodhi’s tranquilising soundtrack help create an enjoyable and thought provoking visual treat that is vastly different to conventional HK cinema. The DVD is easily accessible to Western audiences, providing English subtitles where required and a colossal DTS-ES soundtrack. If the viewer can ignore some of the more unintentionally comic and overly theatrical chapters then Colour Blossoms comes highly recommended.
You can order this title for $12.99 from top retailer Yes Asia.
Review by Bodhi Sarkar
For persons aged 18 or above only
Release Date: 2nd April 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 6.1 EX Cantonese, DTS 6.1 ES Cantonese
Subtitles: English, Chinese
Extras: Audio Commentary, Making of Documentary, Music Video, Trailers, Photo Gallery, Cast & Crew Biographies
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Teresa Cheung, Keiko Matsuzaka, Sho, Ha Ri-su, Carl Ng
Length: 106 minutes
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