‘Through the Five Passes’ Shows How Far iPhone Filmmaking Has Come

The 2023 Chinese New Year Celebration film titled “Through the Five Passes” was shot entirely through the lens of an iPhone 14 Pro and shows the incredible heights that can be reached with a camera that fits in a pocket.

From award-winning director and screenwriter Peng Fe — perhaps most notably known for “The Taste of Rice Flower” which received glowing reviews at the 2017 Venice Film Festival —  “Through the Five Passes” is a story about the Chinese Opera, specifically about a young performer who defies the odds to be on stage.

“Combining dramatic action scenes with strong emotional performances, the film aims to reinvigorate this ancient art form and instill a sense of hope — with the message that as long as we persist, our dreams will live on,” Apple describes.

The nearly 18-minute film was shot entirely on iPhone and, perhaps surprisingly, does not appear to have used any after-market optics — at least none appear in the behind-the-scenes video below. While there is nothing wrong with adding third-party lenses to an iPhone, it is perhaps surprising to see the level of quality that was produced with a device many average consumers carry around with them every day.

“I was totally impressed by the filming experience with iPhone. It turned out that iPhone could be tied to the prop boardsword and the actor’s arm thanks to its compact size and versatility, providing a closer shot to the actor’s face or costumes,” Fei says.

“As a result, when watching the film, the audience can get a closer view of the performance as if they were also on the stage, allowing everyone to better see the details of the actor’s expressions and exquisite details of the patterns on the costumes, which are difficult to see if the audience were to actually watch a live performance on a stage.” 

“As an actor, I had never thought a film crew could completely abandon traditional filming equipment, and rely on filming with iPhone,” Wang Ning, an actor in the short film, says. “Through this experience, we have gone beyond the imagination and made an exquisite film-quality production with iPhone 14 Pro. I really hope this film can attract more than just a tech-savvy audience, and that the audience can truly experience the unique charm of this exceptional culture, through the lens of iPhone.” 

Even if you aren’t sold on Apple’s hype regarding its hardware and software, the behind-the-scenes video as well as the finished product excellently illustrate what is possible with a smartphone now. Sure, there are absolutely portions of the film that use high-end, extremely expensive camera motion devices, but there are also many shots that forgo that equipment for a simple hand-held shot to great effect.

Of course, there is a time and place for high-end cameras and filmmaking equipment, but what is produced here should go a long way to convince aspiring filmmakers that they shouldn’t feel the need to buy the most expensive camera equipment when the phone they carry around is capable of this kind of quality.