The Message

Costume Design


Mai JiaCostume design for Li Bingbing

Feng Sheng book coverCostume design for Zhou Xun

Feng Sheng book coverCostume design for Su Youpeng

Feng Sheng book coverCostume design for Ying Da

Feng Sheng book coverCostume design for Huang Xiaoming

Feng Sheng book coverCostume design for Zhang Hanyu

Interview with The Message Costume Designer Tim Yip

Q: Tell us the experience of Chen Daoyao asking you to oversee the costume designs.

Tim Yip: One day, all of a sudden, I thought of him and he was also thinking of me, and we made an appointment to meet to chitchat. He said that he was very busy, creating a movie that was going to start shooting soon and he was rather tense and keyed up because of this. Subsequently, he asked me whether I was free to help him think of ideas. After chatting the whole night, I began to "put my hand" on this project. The important thing is that Director Chen and I are very good friends, and I like him as a person. Since he hoped that I could help him, I immediately went to his aid.

Q: You have done so many big movies. What is the difference in the designs between Feng Sheng and the previous movies?

A: To me, the time factor in this project was very tight. The props and other things required in this production appeared to be rather complicated. This time, I was only in charge of the designing, and I only gave some suggestions for the sets. The clothing of that era is not very simple. I needed to do a lot of research for a great number of the clothes, and gathered many kinds of materials, and I also needed to understand the specific characteristics for each actor/actress. When I was creating the designs for Li Bingbing, I had some strange feelings, because her image is really very suitable for that era. Once I completed the designs, I immediately felt that the image was truly realistic.

Q: What is the distinguishing feature of each actor/actress? How did you decide how to create the designs?

A: Li Bingbing's character mold is relatively gentle and quiet. A more enriching character mold is Zhou Xun's screen role—a bit dubious, a bit vivacious, with a little touch of danger. In the 1940's, there were already many kinds of patterns and styles in clothes. Although the fundamental key of this movie is based on reality, underlying this truth is also Director Chen's way of looking at things in details. Although the atmosphere is serious, there is an underlying sense of something bright and shining, which results in giving it a theatrical effect. In my mind, there is a certain kind of picture—two women in the 1940s, in the room, dressed in their sleeping attire, one of the them helping the other to sew a garment. Hence, from the beginning, I first planned the image of Li Bingbing and Zhou Xun. The picture of every needle and every stitch portraying the sense of care and concern, yet it also reveals a threadlike trace of danger, which shows their subtle relationship. The characters have to establish their quality, hence I later discussed with Director Chen about letting them wear the qipao—on the outside, wear the Western clothes, and inside, the Chinese qipao. When completed, we were pleased with the results. The color of their qipao is quite close, one has a shade of dark red, and the other, a shade of dark green.

Q: What kind of details was used to reflect the sense of danger?

A: What they wore indoors was a short-sleeved qipao. On one hand, it looked relatively good, as long sleeves would be rather old-fashioned. On the other hand, both of them are very beautiful yet this beauty was not to be emphasized, and I could only use a subtle technique to manifest it. We had also gone through a period of fumbling around, because initially, we were not sure how each characterization would develop, but they somewhat believed in us. When I first started, the stuff I was doing was rather serious. When I first saw Alec Su, the image I had for him was somewhat clean, neat and tidy. Later on, I discovered that Directors Chen and Gao had different opinions. Director Gao was hoping for a kind of more vulgar attire, whilst Director Chen was still contemplating ideas. Subsequently, I also gave him (Alec) a hairstyle with a center part, and an untidily shaven moustache and beard. Much later, after discussion, they felt that they should still make him look a bit of a buffoon, to give a mixture of atmosphere, and the hairstyle with the center part was retained. Regarding Ying Da, I had even made a little modification to his body, and helped him add a big stomach. His face is serious looking but there is a sense of delight at the same time. I felt that this actor is very special. When I saw his body, it was one that was extremely healthy and strong in stature, and there was a lack of that bit of humorous feeling, so I added a stomach for him. Eventually, they all liked it. In such an intense atmosphere of brutality and cruelty, there will be some essence of tranquility and humor, and this should be the foundation of this movie. My understanding was that at the end of the movie, there should not be any post-editing by the directors. The shots were done according to the duration of the film schedule. After that, the cruel and brutal stuff that unfolded was all stuff that was recorded during the filming.

Q: Did the actors put forward their personal requests?

A: Yes, they did, but I would do my best to convince them. Some actors/actresses are very subjective and have many personal opinions and biases. Actually, this can be rather troublesome, and considerably risky. I am not sure whether this is because the mainland performers all along have a kind of mentality, that is to take into consideration their personal image and position, very different from the Hong Kong performers. It is not that this is totally not good. Sometimes, their suggestions are not bad. It was rather difficult to cut Huang Xiaoming's hair, for example, because he had to take into consideration too many factors: he had to do a shampoo advertisement and did not want his hair to be cut too short. Consequently, when you go back to acting, it is difficult to have a balance with these things, because it is as though the whole movie has to cater to one actor, and thus no longer making a movie. I had done a movie with Chen Chong before, she did not even give a thought and let me shave her head bald. The directors will help to communicate with the actors/actresses.

Tim Yip Altered the Costumes In The Message Again and Again

Q: How did you design the military attire according the character roles' personalities?

A: The point of expression of military attire is in the cutting and tailoring. In the past, I had made this little observation. The military attire of the West is especially good to look at. The military attire of the East is rather ordinary. Modern military attire is designed by the West, which gives out a very strong feeling, and for anybody who wears western-style attire, the military attire will look good, as it makes the person stand straight and erect. Hence, this time when I created the design for Huang Xiaoming, I had to modify it to make it more effective, as he is rather refined in stature, not ferocious or military-looking enough. I helped him to add a little bit of chest and once he wore the clothes, he stood straight and erect. The results were not too bad. In the end, he could not stand the stuff and went to exercise to strengthen his body and build up some chest muscles. With Zhang Hanyu, I did not have to resort to such measures, because he did not need any obvious chest muscles. Thinking of Bingbing, the women, we had been thinking about what kind of military attire those in the civilian posts should be—whether the women should be wearing pants or skirts. Later, we decided that wearing skirts would make them as good looking as air stewardesses. After discussing this for half the day, we then discovered that their lower garments could not be seen at all.

Q: Do you watch many such movies like Lust, Caution (Se, Jie) for reference or get your inspiration from other areas?

A: Actually, I feel that we could have made this movie even crazier, but when I joined them, they had already completed one segment of the movie, so I had to make adjustments according to that, to maintain the style. The advantage is that the audience does not have to spend time trying to digest the appearances. People nowadays are rather close to the people we are familiar with; the backdrop is comparatively serious. There is a touch of satire in it.

Q: What is the greatest challenge?

A: The tight schedule. I personally like the attire of that era, because in that era, the clothes were rather set and very regulated. In the past I have done a lot of such movies and am familiar with these. I created a green western suit for Huang Xiaoming, very suitable. The moment he wore it, his character role could be felt. There was a link between his green and Li Bingbing's green. Not sure whether they got to use that suit in the end. Li Bingbing's green qipao was very good to look at. She had taken it off and worn it many times in the movie. Zhou Xun's character role reflects some aggressiveness. She and Li Bingbing had some differences in their character images. Her hair was shorter, rather bouncy. Zhou Xun personally has a kind of pure innocent quality in her, and giving her a rather bouncy hairstyle, would give the effect of instability. Normally, if that character role is amusing, I will create a design that reflects instability, and when the audience sees her, they will be attracted and "follow" her. Movie has an interesting side—it depends on the part, and the part can contain several careful expressions of this character. To film movies of a certain era, in addition to having a vision, one must have a concept, that is the sense and substance of a particular thing, and let that sense of that era slowly and gradually coagulate in the picture. Many of the materials for the clothes are 'dug out' from the old drapery shops. They were very difficult to find.

Q: How did you deal with the torture segment?

A: I added something baroque. For example, the lacy edges on the undergarments. This gives a resplendent feeling. During that time, there was already some western influence for such designs.

Q: To collaborate with two directors, what are the difficult and interesting factors?

A: There is no problem with communication. I am not very familiar with Director Gao but very familiar with Director Chen and talked more with the latter.

Q: What kind of movie is The Message?

A: Terrifying yet humorous.
Q: What leaves you with the greatest impression?

A: Director Chen will ignore you if you do not say a word but he has actually acknowledged you and greeted you. When he talks, he doesn't necessarily look at you, yet he knows that you have arrived. Subsequently he and I talked without looking at each other. He seems to be always in his own world of thoughts

Q: All the actors/actresses have their own strengths, is there anyone who gives you a deep impression.

A: I have very great expectations of Wang Zhiwen's performance, because his role is difficult to act. I believe that he will act well, and will share with Huang Xiaoming some of his pressures. I originally created a rather simple character mold for Alec Su but it was eventually modified to what it is now.

Q: What do you look forward to in The Message?

A: I hope that it will produce a new genre, because China movies still lack these new type of movies. Many movies are still recreating the old types of movies. I hope that this movie will be a pioneer to a new type of movies, and let China movies prosper even more.

English translation by moonstruck
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