Rotterdam 2024 Review: FULL RIVER RED Is A Million Shades Of Grey

Zhang Yimou's historical murder mystery makes you trust no one. NO ONE!

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2024 Review: FULL RIVER RED Is A Million Shades Of Grey
Chinese director Zhang Yimou is a superstar and there is no mistaking that when watching his latest film Full River Red. It's an almost impossibly lush film in its production values, with money bleeding off of the screen in every shot. In previous outings, he used this to experiment with whatever tickled his fancy at that moment, be it color as a narrative tool in Hero or digital multidirectional sound in House of Flying Daggers. His Shadow (reviewed here) made every shot look like a painting in black, white and red while keeping a realistic aesthetic.
Which brings the question: what is he trying out this time?

IFFR2024-FullRiverRed-ext1.jpgHis latest film dumps us straight into a political cesspool. The setting is a fortress with a large garrison in 12th century China, at the border of two warring sub-states. The prime minister of Song has invited an emissary from the hated Lin country nearby to start peace talks. Unfortunately, in the film's first seconds, the Lin emissary is found in his guest room, murdered. Worse, an important item he was carrying seems to have gone missing.

Enraged, the garrison's deputy commander Sun Jun orders the guards who were on duty that night to be executed. But one of them, Zhang Da, says he knows something which may smoke out the murderer. Amused, Song's prime minister gives the condemned guard a special seal, allowing him unrestricted access to everywhere in the fortress, and a mission: solve the murder and retrieve the item within two hours, and Zhang Da might live. The remainder of the film is done almost in real time, as Zhang Da races across the fortress together with Sun Jun in an uneasy alliance, both men desperate to solve the mystery. Their mutual trust is tested heavily, especially when the whole place seems peppered with assassins and spies, and allegiances sometimes need to be changed on a whim.

What Full River Red is not, is red. The entire Song fortress is made of grey stone, set in a grey landscape, and all men are attired in grey metal armour. Zhang Yimou has the entire film play out within the fortress' walls, making it a claustrophobic and paranoid suspense. And make no mistake: if Full River Red is anything, it is FULL. You get a murder mystery, political shenanigans, comedy, uncomfortable scenes of torture, melodrama cranked up to ten, fights, armies, heartfelt patriotism, slapstick, and much, much intrigue. So much, in fact, that it's pushing the narrative far past the point of implausibility.

At two and a half hours in length it makes the film an exhaustive watch. The many twists and turns make it hard to root for anyone, also because the underlying conflict between the countries leaves you cold. Full River Red works best when it is a comedy about a soldier trying to survive a particularly sticky situation he finds himself in. But there is so much drama happening as well that it makes the film as a whole as leaden as its main colour.

Still, it has to be said: if someone can make grey look great it's Zhang Yimou, and lead actors Shen Teng (as Zhang Da) and Jackson Yee (as Sun Jun) are great. Full River Red enjoyed tremendous success in its home country. The film currently plays at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where audiences rated it a 3.6 out of 5. While a decent score, that is a tad low in my opinion.

Full River Red

  • Yimou Zhang
  • Yu Chen
  • Yimou Zhang
  • Teng Shen
  • Jackson Yee
  • Yi Zhang
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Yimou ZhangYu ChenTeng ShenJackson YeeYi ZhangComedyDramaHistory

Around the Internet