While most everything seems to be shot digitally these days, cinematographer Mufeng Han not only embraces the use of traditional film, he’s become increasingly sought out by other filmmakers for his expertise in its use. There’s no question that actual film has a profound look and feel; working with it is remarkably more demanding than shooting on a digital platform. Beyond a familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of film, it takes substantial forethought and planning to conserve film for any production which utilizes it. Director Lan Liu was adamant about using film for Blue, his crime film with a mind altering perspective. In order to properly possess this tone for the film, Liu enlisted the talent of Mufeng with great results. His work on award-winning films like Patrick (winner of Best Narrative Film at the New York Film Awards) and others confirms his skillful approach but it’s the creativity which stands out in his cinematography for Blue; declaring that his voice stands out in the midst of others of his generation.
Blue is a suspenseful crime drama with a bit of a twist on the standard film noir. There’s a substantial amount of camera slight-of-hand involved in telling this tale and producer Yuanhao Du decided to enlist Mufeng as both the director and cinematographer to create the perfect unified approach to this. The story follows a drug dealer who is desperately trying to pay off his debt. When he is stood up at a money drop, he returns home only to be attacked in his own garage. As the events occur, we begin to understand that there’s something about this new Blue drug which is directly related to this drug dealer, the attack, and the secret of the film. (Spoiler Alert!) What becomes illuminated is that the drug dealer and the attacker are actually the same person. In a crime centered twist on the Groundhog Day premise, it becomes obvious that either reality or the main character’s state of mind has become altered. The greatest enjoyment of this story is discovering which.
The plot of Blue challenged and excited Han as both director and DP. Firstly, the film was shot on 16MM and thus possesses those magical traits which only real film delivers. The initial thought was to shoot in the traditional Noir black & white but Mufeng wanted to take a cue from the film’s title and try something different. The result is Noir-adjacent and notable in its uniqueness. The most impressive example of Han’s work in this production are the fight scenes. Carefully designed, rehearsed, and executed, these three second cuts used a stand in with the main actor. The fast action and intentional blurry faces emphasized the frantic tone and empowered the deception that both characters were the same actor…until they actually were! Han describes, “For one of the most prominent fight scenes, there was no way to avoid showing the character’s face…which was of course our main actor. To achieve the proper look and elicit the shock of the audience, I designed two characters in the frame but with same actor. I kept camera position and let the same actor perform the scene twice as different characters. The two frames were then combined in post, creating the illusion of two versions of the same actor in one frame. The extra effort and time was worth the response we got from the audience.”
The accolades Blue has received is a result of the full efforts of the cast and crew but there’s no downplaying the immense impact of Mufeng Han’s vision for this film. Though he’s often worked with other directors as their cinematographer, with Blue he proves that he has spent his time on set both fulfilling one role and absorbing the influence of the notable directors he has worked alongside.