|Highlights: “Soul of the Thundering Mountain,” “A Season of Flowers and Rain,” “Subway to Spring”
Laurels: Chinese Golden Phoenix nom
Dream collaborators: “Ang Lee and John Woo are very outstanding Chinese directors. Also, Feng Xiao Gang and Jiang Wen from China are also very talented directors I’d like to work with.”
Tool kit: On “Daggers,” the cameras were Arricam and Arri435. Kodak S425 and 5246 film stocks were used for exteriors, and 5218 was used on interior shooting.
A picture that mixes the intimacy of a love triangle with epic sweep and artfully choreographed fight sequences, “House of Flying Daggers” required cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding to capture a range of environments, from lavish 9th century great rooms and dank jail cells to dense bamboo forests and hillsides covered in fall leaves.
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His mastery of color is evident in practically every frame. When has celluloid revealed so many different shades of green?
“As a cinematographer, there are two levels of responsibility you must undertake,” says Zhao, who previously worked with “Daggers” helmer Zhang Yimou as head of the B unit on “Hero.” “The first is technical and the second is artistic. These two dimensions are not only of equal importance, but also intricately interconnected. Once you have built up your abilities in these two areas, you are able to create stunning visual effects while also resolving the variety of complex problems that arise during shooting.”
Past experience helped the cinematographer with the production’s rigors. “I have shot a large number of commercials and music videos,” he says. “They allowed me to accumulate a lot of experience with different techniques and approaches. And while shooting action sequences, I would go over visual strategies with Zhang and action director Tony Ching before settling on an approach.”
Not surprisingly, Zhao’s favorite scenes are those in which his camera follows flying daggers and arrows. “That is because all the fast tracking shots — daggers, arrows, even the beans in the Peony Pavilion scene — were actually shot by us and not computer generated,” he says. “This makes those shots much more realistic and reveals a true sense of movement. It is as if the audience’s eyes are pursuing the daggers and arrows.”
Unlike many cinematographers who profess, often ingenuously, that the images should serve the story and not call attention to themselves, Zhao is unabashed in talking up the pic’s sumptuous look.
“I hope that this film enables audiences to enjoy a kind of visual feast,” he says. “As they take in the love story, they can also take pleasure in an assault of gorgeous images and splendid colors, all playing out against a rich visual rhythm. All this helps the audience delve deeper into the emotional experience of the film.”
Zhao is now shooting Zhang’s tentatively titled “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” in China’s Yunnan province.