Cinematography is the art and technology behind film photography.
Everything from the way a shot is framed to the lighting, color, and movement used in those shots to build a story is the cinematographer’s responsibility. The right choices can profoundly affect the overall feel of a drama or film. Like with all projects, every viewer has their favorites, and the cinematography used is no different. Join us at the BL Xpress as we take you on a journey through each of our favorite cinematographic dramas and films.
From beginning to end, the Thai BL Not Me came with a purpose, to tell a love story centered around twins, Black and White, while set amidst a backdrop of corruption and injustice. From the graffiti featured in the film to the artwork, lighting, and colors, the cinematography has been as much the main character as the characters themselves. Any project involving a single actor playing twins involves in-depth camera angles and professional knowledge of effects. Add in powerful moments involving the LGBTQ+ flag and water, and these are just a few examples of the power behind this production.
I Told Sunset About You/I Promised You the Moon
ITSAY and IPYTM depend heavily on symbolism and emotion to convey the complex love story between Teh and Oh Aew. Each moment is carefully planned out from the flowers to the surroundings to express the deep feelings, confusion, pain, and love each character feels as he navigates a relationship from youth to adulthood amidst powerful dreams and expectations.
Your Name Engraved Herein
Whenever a drama delves into a story that takes place in the past, cinematography becomes a game-changer. The Taiwanese film Your Name Engraved Herein is a perfect example of how vital color, filters, and camera angles are when telling a nostalgic story based in the past meant to touch your heart.
While I am profoundly aware that the Chinese bromance The Untamed had a low budget compared to the scale of the project itself, the clever personal touches made all the difference. The implied moments, the use of landscape, and the angles utilized to portray the genuine relationship between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji were crucial for delivering the complex and epic love story between these two men.
Kei x Yaku
Japan has a habit of using darker or yellow filters in their dramas and films. While this may bother some, I find it a key element in how these projects make me feel. There’s something different about the way a Japanese drama is presented that always manages to touch my heart. The Japanese bromance Kei x Yaku is a perfect example. The harsh lighting and darker tones suit the gangster and cop story it presents, along with the connection their linked pasts build between them.
Life Love on the Line
For a drama based on a popular but short manga that takes place over only a few episodes, the Japanese BL Life Love on the Line not only needed great actors and dialogue to pull off its emotional story, it required exceptional cinematography. Especially since part of this drama takes place in the imaginary world created by the line they walk, the same line that eventually ties them together.
My Beautiful Man
For My Beautiful Man to work as a drama, it needed to connect with the audience, especially since one of its main leads, Kiyoi, isn’t the easiest character to understand. From carefully planned close-ups to skillfully filmed subtleties, the cinematographers did a splendid job capturing the vulnerability below Kiyoi’s hard exterior while also capturing Hira’s hidden strength. Although the locations in this mainly centered on Hira’s home, a theater, and a school, they were used to their full advantage and became as integral to the drama as the actors.
The Korean BL Semantic Error is another prime example of how the small touches matter. Although its locations are limited and the central part of the story takes place in school, the use of color and effects sets the tone. The small touches used to recreate the manhwa these characters were born from is enough to create a short but impactful story about a neurodivergent student and the man he falls in love with.
“Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities…much more so than music or language”- Conrad Hall
Setting the scene is one of the most underrated features in television, when done well, people barely talk about it, but when done badly, everyone will notice. Cinematography is essentially the art of capturing images and visual storytelling, which includes lighting, camera angles, colour and it gives us the “movie magic” that makes fictional stories more fantastic and allow you to be transported into a different world. In my opinions, period pieces usually impeccable cinematography and it takes you to the place and engrosses you in that environment, you almost feel like you are there in real time and that there is no way this place doesn’t exist. This makes the characters more believable and enriches the story more than any other plot devices can do.
Winter Begonia is one of my all-time favourite Chinese BLs. It follows the story of a Peking Opera singer (Shang Xi Rui) and his troupe, who becomes friends with a wealthy (and married) businessman (Cheng Feng Tai), who becomes enamoured with him because they both share a love of Peking Opera, which he acquired as a child due to his mother having been an opera singer. Cheng Feng Tai becomes Shang Xi Rui’s benefactor and assists him to keep his Opera troupe functioning by providing him with financial assistance and management assistance. When the Japanese invade their hometown Beiping, they both have to make choices and fight for what they stand for, and for Shang Xi Rui this means ensuring that the legacy and history of Peking Opera are passed on and do not get wiped out, as this is typical of colonialists.
The story comprises of such bitter sweet moments, Shang Xi Rui and Cheng Feng Tai meeting and becoming “soulmates” even though Cheng Feng Tai already has a family, the way the two men grow together in a short space of time and help each other through tough times and how with the coming of the Japanese, colonialism shifts their lives so dramatically and even though everyone fought to keep what they loved close to them, in the end hard decisions had to be made. The lighting in the series is generally set to dark tones, however, due to the colourful Opera atmosphere is in stark contrast with the rest of the dark world and this assists in showing the highlighting that this the place where both Shang Xi Rui and Cheng Feng Tai (and the rest of the town) found joy and solace in contrast to the dull atmosphere the rest of the world is embodying.
The dark atmosphere and low lighting in the show overall gives the viewer a great understanding of the fact that these are troubled times, there is a lot of civil unrest and with the Japanese invasions looming, the way of life will only get worse. Even in the theatre scene, there is a lot of bad blood between the troupes and within the troupes, a lot of betrayal and discontent is also seen.
The brightness brought about by the Opera is therefore a light in this dull world in the same way the characters find light and colour when they are in the theatre, and even Boss Shang, in his day-to-day life, does not take with him the colourful costumes, he leaves that life on the stage. Boss Shang refuses to sit in his opera costume at some point because it is so precious to him and he does not want to taint it. This is how precious the theatre is to him and through the way in which the lighting in all theatre scenes are not stark, but rather very soft, making the opera scenes seem almost dream-like, or how it would normally look had it been a flashback.
Word of Honor
When I watched Word of Honor, the scenery was so beautiful, it felt like I was watching a documentary because of how lively and alive everything felt. The cinematography is fantastic. As with many wuxia, (Chinese dramas denoting the adventures of martial artists in ancient times), there is a lot of fantasy involved and the cinematography helps in creating this illusion in such a beautiful way, the movie magic is made possible through the way the camera captures the scene in wide shots, to give the viewer more perspective and the way the colours gloriously merge with the story and the scene.
Word of Honour is overall quite a colourful series, although it deals with evil spirits, death and vengeance the cinematography highlights the colorful aspects in the setting and despite the overwhelming darkness in the story, the relationship between Zhou Zi Shu and We Ke Xing, that of soulmates, overwhelms the other themes of death and violence. Even their familial relationships with Cheng Ling and Gu Xiang highlights the importance love and light. From the lovely evergreen mountains, fields of cherry blossoms, white snowy mountains and even the dark starry nights, the lighting is so vivid and full of life, which brings a lot of a levity to a story about Zhou Zi Shu who has only three years to live after having performed a fatal ritual in order to leave the assassin organisation of the Window of Heaven and Wen Ke Xing, the chief of the Ghost Valley who is on a quest for vengeance.
Ultimately, the show is about two soulmates who meet by chance and take up a journey in which both of them find healing in each other, it is a story about restoration and the abundance of colour and luscious fields of cherry blossom highlight vivid emotions that the characters portray. The characters are neither black or white but contain a multitude of vivid colours and this is well done and portrayed in the cinematography.
I have mentioned Ossan’s Love previously in one of my articles about my favourite BL Scenes and I believe Ossan’s Love’s cinematography is just soo gorgeous it makes me tear up. (tear drops in the background)
The plot of the series is very cartoonish and quite ridiculous overall but the way the cinematographer engages with the background lights is just too beautiful, it melts my heart. The cinematographer doesn’t just work with natural light, this is the best instance in which lights are manipulated as part of the story telling technic and although it seems gimmicky, it matches with the over-the-top acting that happens in the show and creates a light-hearted atmosphere.
And even in heart-breaking scenes, the scene is set out so beautifully, you can’t help but shed a tear and smile a little because that is what life after love is. The setting is meant to evoke emotions and seeing the “in your face” emotions highlighted on screen through lighting is cute. Although this does not move the plot in any particular way, it is a playful way in which the viewers can relate to these characters who do not take themselves seriously in any event.
I Told The Sunset About You
We can never talk about cinematography without talking about the masterpiece that is I Told Sunset About You. It is easy to confuse the setting of the series with the cinematography because of how beautiful the setting is and how perfectly shot the actual show is.
The mood and setting of the series enrich the series in such a way that takes the story up a notch. The mood that the cinematographer set was so heavy and bold and you could almost cut the tension between Teh and Oh-aew with a knife.
When I watched the trailer, I was certain someone was going to die in the show. The way in which the deeply contrasting colours are shot portrays so much emotion in the atmosphere, and it proved that sometimes the longing and all the other raw emotions that come with love are such a powerful and overwhelming force, it feels like a matter of life and death. ITSAY lighting has deep tones which makes the atmosphere set ominous and demands to be taken seriously.
The relationship between Teh and Oh-aew is filled with so much tension from the beginning and that tension is highlighted clearly in the way the story is captured and just like the setting, demands the viewer to take each character seriously on the journey they are taking. In the bra scene, the entire background almost vanishes and our focus is drawn to the red bra that Oh-aew is putting in, showing his internal conflict with not being physically “acceptable” to Teh.
The way the Deep Reds that are associated with Oh-aew in particular but can be seen throughout the series are captured is striking and as a symbol of passion (or death), even in the dark, even in the blurry background they also demand to be seen.
In conclusion, good cinematography does well for the story just as much as the acting and the plot because it evokes emotions just as much as the acting. The colour, the lighting and the angles are all part of the great story telling process and help us appreciate the work more and makes the work more memorable.
We will be back next week with the second edition of this feature. So till then, keep watching this space as we bring you more updates from the Asian BL World!