The colors, art direction and costumes of Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers” leap off the screen with a high-energy kick. The team of Tingxiao Hua (production design), Zhong Han (art direction) and Emi Wada (costume design) created an eye-popping world of beauty and action to tell the emotional story about love, hatred and revenge.
Although her onscreen creations look elegant and effortless, Wada had to work with a half-dozen script changes during production, but she managed to maintain her focus and to create ornately detailed outfits.
“From the first script to the final script, it had changed six times,” says Wada. “Each time I had to design different costumes. In the end, I had no time to draft the costume designs, so I had to work on making costumes with no draft design.”
Having worked with helmer Zhang on his previous film, “Hero,” Wada and Tingxiao decided to differentiate “Dagger” visually from its predecessor.
“From an aesthetic perspective, these two films are extremely different, as are the historical eras during which they are set, and the foundation upon which each film’s respective design was constructed,” Tingxiao says. “I like to give the example that ‘Hero’ is like a painting by Qi Baishi, bold and unrestrained, while ‘Daggers’ is closer to the work of Zhang Daqian, a kind of combination between the hard and the soft, revealing a subtlety amid what seems to be crudeness.”
Wada used colors to distinguish the two pics.
“The costumes created for ‘Hero’ were more colorful and I had images of costumes waving in the air,” Wada says. “For ‘Daggers,’ I wanted to create a different image. I mainly used a lot of greenish and bluish colors, and included lots of embroidery, and designed costumes based on the costumes worn during the Tang dynasty. I tried to make a color contrast in designing the costumes of the colorful dancers and the police officers.”
Tingxiao also relied heavily on traditional Chinese cultural elements when designing the brothel Peony Pavilion set and the film’s props.
“The hard-carved flower patterns in the windows, the Chinese-style system of tiers of brackets inserted between the pillars and crossbeams, and the Tang-style wooden relief carvings all worked together to reveal the most exquisite example of traditional Chinese-style buildings and interior design,” Tingxiao explains. “The same goes for the weapons used by the actors. Not a single one reminds you of Western weapons. They are all traditional-style Chinese weapons and leave viewers with a sense of their extreme function and beauty.”