Yellow is a low-budget German-language short thriller written and directed by Rene Zhang. Starring Lani Nguyen as Jean, a struggling actress who experiences a series of bizarre events seemingly triggered after taking the drug called, “Yellow.” An early trailer for the film takes the form of a drug information film and an official-sounding voice-over lists a worryingly long list of side-effects which include a number of “abnormal behaviours”, e.g., aggressiveness, agitation, hallucination, confusion and risk of suicide…all characteristics that feature prominently in the film. Yellow is scored by young German singer/songwriter Julian Kantus and this short film appears to be his first major scoring project. The main thrust of the album is the prominent presence of synths, particularly easy-to-listen rhythms whose main purpose in the film is to provide tension and drive to the on-screen action.
The film itself opens with a song, “Take Me Away” (Burman, feat. Jessica Jean), which does not feature on this release. The album opens with a simple piano-led theme for the main character, Jean (“Lani’s Theme / Yellow Begins”). The second half of this track then showcases the previously-mentioned synth rhythms. Kantus adds on top of this a series of descending piano scales that sound “off-kilter” and which mirror the disorienting camera work and the less-than-subtle appearance of yellow-hued lighting, all of which sign-post the drug taking hold of Jean. The composer also adds a variety of audio effects to the score, particularly in conjunction with the pulsing synth rhythms. These additional audio effects give a sense of “outside influences” bleeding into the main character’s reality, blurring the barrier of what’s fact and fiction. One recurring audio effect (an eerie sound of struck hollow pipes) signals the appearance to Jean of a mysterious disembodied hand – a hand with nails painted yellow (perhaps the influence of the drug)? One example of where these added audio effects are particularly effective is during a video call between Jean and her sister (“Enemy Behind”). Unsettling electronic effects synchronise with the appearance of an additional presence, with the persistence of the effect heightening the tension and uneasiness even when on-screen events suggest that the threat may have receded.
After a series of short cues in the middle of the album that showcases the piano-led theme, the pulsing rhythms and the audio effects in various combinations, the score reaches its climax with the final two tracks, “End It” and “Epiphany”. As events in the story seem to be being resolved, there’s a strength given to the film by the score (“End It”) as Jean appears to make sense of everything. Kantus injects this strength by adding layer upon layer of instrumentation on top of a basic single idea rather than by being overly complex with the scoring of complex musical ideas/themes. This is a good decision as the viewer needs to focus all their concentration on the plot in order to follow what’s going on and not be distracted by the presentation of any intricate musical ideas. The album ends brightly as the credits roll (“Epiphany”).
Julian Kantus’ music for Yellow works well in the film, particularly the use of the audio effects, adding a sense of unease as well as heightening the tension (though these effects may be distracting when heard away from the film). The synth rhythms that feature so prominently are pleasant to listen to though there’s not much development of these ideas during the course of the score. As a final note, it’s interesting to see that the simple piano theme for Jean that opens the score is called “Lani’s Theme”, a possible reference to actress Lani Nguyen who plays Jean. A further example of the blurring between reality and fiction brought on by “Yellow”? Yellow is available for purchase as a digital download and Rene Zhang’s film can be viewed in full on vimeo.
- Lani’s Theme / Yellow Begins (2:58)
- Silence 1 (1:23)
- Enemy Behind (0:49)
- Chased – Part 1 (0:43)
- Chased – Part 2 (1:58)
- Silence 2 (1:24)
- Got Ya (0:36)
- End It (4:31)
- Epiphany (4:33)
Running Time: 18:59