Film & TV

The Liaison of Colour and Cinema

Why colour is not merely an accessory in films but, a stimulus to local cinema.

From the change of the saturation between the sun setting and rising or how darker the moving pictures become when a scene shows a character’s memory, colour is vital to how a story unravels, the setting of time or simply the disparity of the characters’ emotions. The intricacy of a film’s palette designed by the director, cinematographer or even by the hands of the production designer may escape the audience’s view and mind but, it’s the existence of the colour scheme that gives a film its depth, theme and tone. Malaysia was first presented with colour in the local cinema with Phani Majumdar’s Hang Tuah done in Eastman colour which was a rarity and since then, variants of shades are used as the film’s agent in story-telling.


Eastman colour is a "single-strip colour" process used in colour motion pictures production. Hang Tuah was the first Malay film to be fully shot in Eastman colour.
Eastman colour is a “single-strip colour” process used in colour motion pictures production. Hang Tuah was the first Malay film to be fully shot in Eastman colour.

Kabir Bhatia is renowned for his trademark of using darker pigmentation in his work and this can be seen in his 2006 film, Cinta or Love which was filmed mainly in Kuala Lumpur. The film centres on the different interpretations of love from an elderly couple to a pairing who should have been together but, couldn’t in spite of their admiration for each other. Every scene is uniquely set to dark colours like the greyness in the grass in the park, the sky slowly losing its blue and even the lack of vivid colours in the actors’ wardrobe. At the introduction of this scheme, the audience would understand that the film isn’t a simple romantic comedy though; it is the complicated reality of relationships that isn’t always bright and forgiving and with the help of cinematographer, Madnor Kassim, the capital city is valued as this mysterious metropolitan that is woven with many untold stories.

Kabir Bhatia is well-known for painting his films with dark undertones such as in Nur Kasih: The Movie.
Kabir Bhatia is well-known for painting his films with dark undertones such as in Nur Kasih: The Movie.

Kabir Bhatia again used a darker colour scheme in Nur Kasih: The Movie which was a sequel to the celebrated romantic drama of the same name. Although, some of the film’s scenes were shot in the Jordanian desert, the light sand was toned down and Kabir Bhatia’s trait was evident especially at the beginning of the film where a funeral was featured. The grimness of the scene was inevitable as the characters were dressed in black and drenched by the rain symbolising the lost they were experiencing.

A director who has recently made his name by emphasising the natural beauty of Malaysia in his films is Chiu Keng Guan who has gained recognition from The Journey and later the notable, Ola Bola. The Journey won Best Cinematography at the 27th Malaysian Film Festival to honour the beautiful, intense and strong colours captured in the film. The collaboration between Chiu Keng Guan and cinematographer, Eric Yeong treated the sunlight as a friend when the scenes concentrate on the greenery in Cameron Highlands, the clear sapphire waters surrounding Aur Island and even during the night; the shadows could not hide the rich shades of red of the Chingay Parade in Johor Bahru.

Cinematographer, Eric Yeong intensified the natural colours of Malaysia's environs in The Journey.
Cinematographer, Eric Yeong intensified the natural colours of Malaysia’s environs in The Journey.

The pinnacle of the picture has to be the montage of the construction of the hot-air balloon which was promoted in the film’s poster where vibrant hues are used to its advantage and as the film’s acme which focuses on unity in diversity. Chiu Keng Guan repeated his flair for accenting the environment’s colours as it is as well as heightening them in Ola Bola, the film depicting the victorious moment when Malaysia’s national football team qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics. However, there is a subtle difference between Ola Bola and Chiu Keng Guan’s previous film as the colours are more delicate almost bordering towards sepia and this can be observed in the scenes of the main characters playing at the fun fair where the lights seemed to glow auburn. The sandy shade contributed to the atmosphere of the olden days portrayed and worked as a time-tunnel for the audience.

Colour is essential even when there is lack of it such as in the milestone, Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang by the varied Mamat Khalid as a tribute to the ‘Neo-noir’ genre and the neutral tint in Yasmin Ahmad’s films which contributed to the sentiment of her stories. Nonetheless, colour arrangements necessitate the keenness from the viewers to marvel at the presentation and to appreciate how the gloominess in the clouds, the gaudiness of the trees and the pastel costumes can build the plot or even be the brand of a film creator.

Featured image: Screenshot from Mamat Khalid’s film, Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang



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