I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the use of color as a storytelling element. This isn’t a dissertation, really, and certainly isn’t a tutorial. Merely an observation; an off the cuff observation, and not mind-blowingly thorough, either.
Although it can be used this way in comics, its implementation is much more obvious in film, mostly because in a narrative art setting, it can simply be chalked up to artistic choice or interpretation. In cinema (at least good cinema), bold color choices can slap an audience in the face and make them seriously think about why its there.
Hollywood does this very rarely, choosing instead to use very muted, two tone palettes. I imagine its mostly a way to make things look “cool” (see: Underworld. Ugh). There are, of course, instances in American film where its used brilliantly, but none spring to mind with any urgency. I’m not sure why it evolved in Hong Kong cinema and Bollywood so well and why it didn’t here. The most glaring examples, at least to western audiences, are the films of Yimou Zhang, “Hero” and “House of the Flying Daggers”. That Rashamon style structure of “Hero” utilized color to distinguish not only the story’s point of view, but also served to show the audience what the “real” truth was. On first view it can be easily overlooked, but repeat watches start to bring things together. Its an element I imagine Akira Kurosawa would have used to its full potential. Another, less well known example, was the fantastic Tarsem Singh creation “The Fall”, a wildly surreal and beautiful piece of work. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
There’s a significant chance you don’t care one iota about what I just said, but at the very least if you think about it when you see these films, or any others, maybe it served some purpose other than me clearing it out of my head.