Full River Red - is Yimou back?
If Zhang Yimou is one of the greatest filmmakers from mainland China, his filmography still has been shifting between more and less daring films. While Full River Red is definitely not his bravest film, its form definitely has some most daring traits.
Following his difficulties sparked from his recent film One Second, with Full River Red, Yimou returns to the classic setting of imperial China, featured in many of his most famous martial arts films. Full River Red is however no martial arts film, even if it shares similarities with Hero, as both films elaborate a brief piece of true chinese history to build around it a wider drama. The title references a poem that is very well known by chinese students of all ages. Not knowing more about the backstory of the film makes the viewing experience much more entertaining.
A court conspiracy movie, with a strong stageplay quality, that is entirely set inside the walls and courts of a palace, that features an isochronic narration in which the film's runtime equals the real length of events, Full River Red is an idiosynchratic work that sometimes shifts excessively between contrasting tones. The soundtrack is a prime example to prove this: it shifts between some very out-of-place chinese pop music, some more traditional sounding tracks, and the very orchestral heights that are more normally associated with Yimou's films. While there are definitely oddities in this film, one element is much to be praised: Teng Shen's character, Zhang Da, very subtly multi-faceted and intriguing.
Ultimately, Full River Red is most definitely not Yimou's strongest film, nor his grand return to the historical genre. Yet, it still does show his untamed talents in storytelling.