By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
If you enjoyed “Hero” or “House of Flying Daggers,” then this film should be right up your alley. Zhang Yimou is back with his latest film, “Shadow.” If you are not familiar with Zhang’s work, he is known for gorgeous picturesque cinematography and choreographed fight scenes that are so beautiful, you will forget the combatants are trying to kill each other. Even the terrible and controversial film, Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, looked great under Zhang’s direction.
“Shadow” is based on China’s famous Three Kingdoms saga story. The king of Pei (Zheng Kai) is complacent with the peace that now exists between the Pei and Yang Kingdoms, but Commander Yu (Chao Deng) has decided to challenge General Yang (Hu Jun) to a duel to reclaim the city of Jing, which Pei had originally controlled. The king is shocked that Commander Yu would disrupt the peace between the two kingdoms and quickly strips him of his rank. Unbeknownst to the king, this is actually a look-alike of Commander Yu, known as the Shadow (also played by Chao Deng). The real Commander Yu is currently hiding away in a dark cave after suffering a devastating blow from a duel with General Yang that has permanently crippled him. Commander Yu and his wife (Sun Li) have hatched a master plan that starts by using the Shadow to wage war. If that was not complicated enough, the Shadow begins to fall in love with Commander Yu’s wife. But do not worry! Everything wraps up nicely in the end.
“Shadow” boasts a dark and foreboding imagery as the film is stained in black, greys, and whites. The only vivid color of red comes from the wounds suffered in battle. There is constant rain in any scene that takes place outside, which accentuates the tension and foreshadowing of a powerful weapon. A huge yin/yang symbol in a cave will serve as a constant reminder of the struggle between two opposing forces — fire versus water, Shadow versus Original. It feels like an intricate game of chess, where each force is trying to defeat the other with the right moves.
I was impressed with Chao Deng’s performance as the Shadow and Commander Yu. I sometimes forgot both characters were played by the same person. The first part of the movie serves as an introduction of characters and what is at stake, and not much action. This is definitely a slow burn until the second half of the movie. Then those crazy killer umbrellas that were featured in the trailer finally make their appearance! I am not even sure how Zhang comes up with these ideas. I won’t spoil what happens or what the spiky umbrellas can do, but it is indeed awesome.
During the 2018 Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards, “Shadow” won for Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, and Best Makeup & Costume Design.
This film has grossed only $170,000 in the United States, so I will be surprised if this film is shown another week. I recommend checking out Shadow if you are a fan of Zhang Yimou’s work.
“Shadow” is currently playing only at AMC Pacific Place.
John can be reached at email@example.com.