Starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Wang Quianyuan, Hu Jun, Guan Xiaotong, Leo Wu. Directed by Zhang Yimou. (116 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM WELL GO USA
Review by Tiger the Terrible😸
Shadow is the latest film by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, probably best-known to Western audiences for Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Perhaps still a little butthurt from the shellacking he received for his first English language film (The Great Wall), this one feels like a concentrated effort to revisit past glories.
Like Yimou’s most successful work, Shadow is equal parts action movie and historical drama. Though aesthetically grittier, it’s nevertheless very stylish and superlatively assembled, with an intriguing story and vivid characters.
The “shadow” of the title is Jing Zhou (Deng Chao). Due to his striking resemblance to the Pei kingdom’s greatest military commander, Ziyu (also Chao), he’s been groomed since childhood as Ziyu’s doppelganger. Ziyu is injured and ailing from recently losing a battle with Yang Cang, the commander whose army occupies Pei’s capital city. He challenges Yang to a rematch, against the wishes of Pei’s cowardly king, Peillang. Now Jing must fight Yang instead, using extensive training from Ziyu and his wife, Xiao, whom Jing has fallen in love with.
|Jing can't bring himself to inform Xiao he was wounded while bathing his cat.|
The story is more complicated than that, with Peillang offering his sister as a wife to Yang’s son in an effort to maintain peace. Ziyu also has a bigger agenda than simply taking back the city, while Jing follows orders on the promise that he’ll be reunited with his mother. Numerous plot twists ensue, particularly near the climax, which is arguably more brutal and bloody than anything Yimou has previously directed. While the film does take a considerable amount of time to gain momentum, the imagery alone makes up for the lulls. The whole film is primarily shot in stark black and white tones, apparently to resemble old Chinese ink wash paintings. Metaphorically, I suppose it nicely contrasts the ambiguity of the characters’ motives and actions.
Shadow has none of the high-flying choreography of House of Flying Daggers, nor the spectacle of Hero. But despite being more down-to-Earth – relatively speaking – its action and fight sequences are no-less impressive. I wouldn’t quite put it in the same league as his two most renowned films, but fans of Zhang Yimou’s period-based action epics should enjoy it.
7 MAKING-OF FEATURETTES
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