Award-winning New Zealand film-maker Pietra Brettkelly has a track record of amazing documentaries. From observing Libya's first beauty pageant in Beauty Will Save the World, to capturing the restoration of the Afghan film archives in Kabul in A Flickering Truth, Brettkelly has a knack for finding fascinating stories – and the persistence and audacity to get them to the big screen.

She's done it again with Yellow is Forbidden, a beautifully shot, warm and insightful film about Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei. Keen to make a documentary featuring a strong female artist, Brettkelly couldn't have picked a better time to convince Guo Pei to tell her story.

Well known in Asia for her exquisitely made custom garments (which will put you back six figures), Guo Pei was on the cusp of becoming world famous when Brettkelly convinced Pei to let her observe her life. Pei hit the headlines soon after, when Rihanna wore a yellow gown with a massive train to the 2015 Met Gala. You may remember this - the gown became a pancake meme.

As well as becoming a household name Guo Pei was preparing to travel to Paris in a bid to be accepted by the exclusive Haute Couture Commission, an extraordinarily stressful time.


While Brettkelly and Pei don't have a shared language, Brettkelly gains her subject's trust and is given intimate access to her world. The daughter of a communist solider and a teacher, Guo Pei's over the top, extravagant and luxurious style seems at first a reaction to her upbringing during the Cultural Revolution.

And yet Guo Pei is more complex and considered. She's proud of her heritage and keen to present a modern-day China as a destination as relevant to fashion as anywhere else in the world. Pei also goes some way to breaking the myth that China is only filled with cheap fast fashion manufacturing - especially with her love of expensive handcrafted traditions.

Visually Yellow is Forbidden is sophisticated and creative. Numerous story threads keep the interest, and Pei makes for delightful company - you don't need to be interested in fashion to enjoy this visual feast of a film. Catch it on the big screen while you can.


Guo Pei, Wendi Murdoch


Pietra Brettkelly

Running Time:


97 mins




Beautiful, warm and captivating.