Music in the entertainment industry is used for more than just to set the mood for the audience, it becomes part of the film. Mostly it has been utilized as the backdrop to set a scene. However, musical scores are also used to tell more of the story, especially when there is no dialogue to push it forward. Sometimes producers and directors will even lean on the music within their films, instead of action or character development.
Most of the time, Hollywood movies adequately depict the essence and have long been studied for their use of music in the appropriate times. But, what about Asian films? Everyone is familiar with some of the amazing Asian cinematic theme songs like the ones shown in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with it’s “Night Fight Theme Music” and winning the honor and Oscar for Best Original Score (and also no wonder that it spawned more than one film from its success).
Here are some other looks into the wonderful films in Asian cinema that do just that – rely heavily on music as a way to tell their incredible stories.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)
Musical composers Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi were onto something with their music in this film. It follows along with the film’s plot almost directly, elevating themes and thoughts in a way that the characters themselves don’t even show until much later.
There’s a specific melancholy violin piece, known as “Yujemi’s Theme” that repeats itself many times throughout the film, but each time it shows a different scenario, though it fits perfectly into it – there is a scene under falling rain, or when characters are walking up or downstairs where they just barely miss each other in their paths. The music gives interactions a truly cinematic quality, portraying some of the innermost thoughts that the characters don’t want to succumb to, bringing far more to the story than what is simply seen on the screen.
YOUR NAME (2016)
This soundtrack depicts the imminent feeling of slow-burn with a bit of suspense thrown in that was established by Korean film composer and musical artist Mowg (aka Lee Sung-hyun). Full of confusion and obsession, and a strong hint of romanticism, this thriller has a haunting and mysterious musical score, that uses a very minimalistic approach, and it fits to drive the plot
along accordingly. It was named by many fans as one of the best scores.
Many films license music from relevant agencies so that they can create the best sounds and musical design to help tell their story. This is a great example of Mowg’s talent and ability to pull along the plot through very simple, but impactful musical choices.
NADA SOSO – TEARS FOR YOU (2006)
This film was actually inspired by its own theme song, which just goes to show you that music can tell the story better than a screenplay in some cases. This love story depicting step-siblings has music that will cause tears to flow, as it is so accurately named. The song entitled “Nada Sou Sou” actually means ‘Tears that cannot stop flowing.” Very fitting, and this song is still very popular throughout Japan and one of the most covered tunes.
THE HOST (2006)
The famed director Bong Joon-ho is known for taking on very unconventional screenplays,
twisting narratives, and putting viewers through a rollercoaster of emotions. The music (by composer Lee Byung-woo) throughout this particular story aids in the eccentricity of both the characters and the story, portraying whimsical melodies and short repeating notes that add tension and suspense.
Since this is a monster film the musical score does reflect that with pounding bass to get your heart pumping with fear, but there’s also a lot of humor shown as well, and within the music, youget glimpses of blasting trumpets and melodies with the ability to give personality to the monster itself, while also being terrifying and haunting.
DESTINY: TALE OF THE KAMAKURA (2018)
Naoki Sato composed an outstanding musical score for this film. The orchestral pieces really bring this live-action fantasy-drama to life within the film. There’s a light sense of magic and wonderment mixed with vibrancy. There is everything within this soundtrack to tell a story: from whooping french horns, plucked strings, and chord progressions that perceive character thoughts, classical waltz, and romantic love songs with harps. There are also moments of action and suspense, laden with heavy percussion and imaginative power with brass undertones. It is no surprise that Sato is truly one of the greatest film composers with the ability to weave all of these instruments together in such
a way that tells the story.
There are some filmmakers that say a film’s sound design and musical soundtrack is a language of itself and even can take over the words characters speak. This seems to hold steadfast even in Asian Cinema as shown here with the composition of effective music that makes a true impact, so the music is just as important to directors and producers as designing scenes and writing great dialogue is and should never be overlooked.
Originally published August 5, 2020
Revised August 12, 2020