Music Symbol in Zhang Yimou’s Films

Lee R. Bobker,an American writer, film director and producer, has emphasized that important meaning of sounds in his book elements of film: if the movie without sound, no matter how good picture and well editing, it won’t be real any longer, in the meanwhile, it lost its appeal and rhythm seems to slow down too, just like a series of pictures. Sound is the easiest medium to use in a purely artistic way. Iran’s movie master Abbas also has similar conception to stress the importance of sound elements. For me, sound is a more important element than image. Photography we captured is simply plane image, sound will endow it with hierarchical deeper meaning. In other words, sound transfers a series of pictures into 3D video.

The sound has several kinds of meaning, such as conveying information (rational or emotional), depicting characters (narrative or not), promoting event or story, playing a role as a part of the performance, demonstrating environment atmosphere (including time and era background) and so on. These functions usually coordinate with other elements. It is a collaborative utility. According to related academic research, movie sound elements can be roughly divided into following three parts: vocals, natural sounds and movie music. I will mainly concentrate on movie music. In order to create a complete academic argument system, discussion of both vocals, natural sound is also indispensable.

Vocal is used in movie highly frequent. It is not only a crucial communication way but also be thought as an effective strategy to promote plots. For example, Curse of the Golden Flower, Zhang used ancient Chinese poetry words to manifest emperor’s rigorously majestic palace in an intriguing scene. Natural sound is another sensitive aspect to get audience involved in specific social environment. In To Live, the voice of newscaster who reads Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong flows from loudspeakers. Immerging audience in a strong pressure. Both content and form are special phenomenon only belonging to the sensitive age in China—Cultural Revolution. According to Hegel, the elements of art beautiful consists of two aspects, one is internal elements—- content; another is external element—-form. The special value of art is to demonstrate its internal emotion, soul as well as inspirit through external form. It also can be concluded as another conception—-art implication.


Movie, a member of art family, is not reality. No film is a loyal story teller of certain time. It won’t tell story from sociological aspects. Film music and movie song usually highlight film’s lyric and dramatic character in a subtle way. Music, as well as other art forms, it can show people what they desire in daily life; in addition, it incisively shows both joys and sorrows of human being. What’s more, it also has a strong appeal to inspire morale and create a better life.

Language is, without a doubt, the most momentous and at the same time the most mysterious product of the human mind.However, as a discursive communication way, language also has its own limitation, specially in film art. If grand scene along with right, majestic music or singing, it can achieve a perfect performance higher than language does. Music is a symbol, Symbol and meaning make man’s world far more than sensation. [18] There are lots of example can be listed in Zhang’s film.

The success of Zhang Yimou film music should owe largely to composer ZhaoJiping. Each pieces of his music can be regarded as classic works. In the film Red sorghum, actor Jiang Wen sings in a wildly and freely: Dear sister you just go and don’ worry anything, just go, go forward and never come back, there are 9999 ways reaching where you want to go …” This song completely show a kind of natural strength and purity of the character.


Music can be used to show characters’ state mind and inner activities; perform tension, terror, intense scene, depict of scenery. For the above mentioned aspects, movie music plays a huge, positive and indispensable role. Film songs is the song itself, just like the stars in the night, it is not to illuminate darkness but to add a light to films. Beethoven said: music appears at the end of language. Zhang Yimou film has many classic music which accepted globally. Those songs usually with obvious Chinese culture elements, is typical eastern music.

Music is a primarily natural language of soul. “…If music has any significance, it is semantic, not symptomatic. Its “meaning” is evidently not that of a stimulus to evoke emotions, nor that of a signal to announce them; if it has an emotional content, it “has” it in the same sense that language “has” its conceptual content—symbolically.” For Zhang, music is a only form to convey his thought. It is a universal strategy —-using specific image to demonstrate similarly related meaning, feelings and conception. Kant pointed out in his book Critique of Judgment which includes a large overview of the entirety of Kant’s Critical system, arranged in its final form; that the valuable form usually can express artists’ strong implication and art mind in a suitable way.  One of reason why music can be a good element used in film is that it is short of specific language and rational symbol. What’s more. Music is not only irrational but repel reason. Even if the music has words which should be subjected to music itself and its passion.   In Zhang’s film, he combines music original artistic meaning and symbolic Chinese traditional culture content in an ideal context.

Zhang is a talented filmmaker, he combines novel with unique film language to create a fresh, beautiful and chic world mirror in front of viewers. Zhang has followed a unique route combining film with literature. Cultural roots exploration interviewed Zhang couple years before: he said Chinese good film should largely owe to abundant classic novels that makes great movie possible, image that if we take off these novels, Chinese movie will not exist either.  powerful narrative, fuzzy time background and original space concept time make Zhang Yimou’s film extend to an unlimited state with a colorful myth.


In a movie, a character with symbolic meaning can give audience strong impression without his or her purposive meaning behind specific behavior. However, the process of symbolizing character tends to make people become a typed one without distinct feature that distinguish from others.  Audio-visual language is an audio-visual element, these symbols can be considered as an image, or a symbol.  These symbols always show different means to us, tell us about an idea or a kind of culture. However, those means, ideogram, thoughts or culture have certain regional or cognitive limit. From the long term, traditional symbol is not good for culture communication.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. jodyleylax says:

    Sound is very important, we tend to pay more attention to something if it sounds good.

  2. judithdandan says:

    Agree with you.

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