In Brief: Shadow is a typical Zhang Yimou film. It is set in ancient historical China and features brilliant lights, shadows and effects. Don’t miss it if you’re a fan.
I’m a fan of Chinese writer/director Zhang Yimou films. That’s not all that surprising. Ask any critic and they’ll tell you he’s brilliant. In my case there is more to my love of his films than that statement. I’ve been reviewing movies for 28-years and have been a fan of film all of my life. Of all of the directors in the somewhere around 10,000 movies that I’ve seen, none shoot movies that are more beautifully done.
I don’t necessarily love the stories or the acting in his films but I’m not alone in saying the guy shoots some of the most hypnotic and mesmerizing films ever done. In my book of bests, Yimou’s 2002 film Hero is the second most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen.
In case you are curious, the top spot is Tarsem Singh’s The Fall from 2016.
Shadow isn’t as stunning or beautifully done as some of Yimou’s films. However, that’s like saying Mt. Hood isn’t as beautiful as Mt. Rainier. Probably not, but it’s still beautiful.
Even if the story in one of Yimou’s movies — like 2016’s The Great Wall — is dull as dirt, the cinematography and effects are incredible.
Shadow is set in China at a place and time in the nation’s distant past. Different houses and factions within those houses are battling for control. This film features a cowardly king whose line lost a key city in a duel. Some in his kingdom want to get it back but he refuses to do anything to rock the boat for fear of losing his crown.
The film’s hero is Commander. He’s challenged the leader of the faction controlling the key city — and the fiercest warrior in the land — to a duel. If Commander wins, the lost city is returned. Lose and he not only forfeits his life but the city is forfeit. King Pei doesn’t want that and has a scheme to counter Commander’s ill-conceived move.
But it’s not ill-conceived. Commander isn’t actually Commander. He’s a shadow. That’s a look alike who is — at the behest of the actual Commander — involved in espionage of the most twisted kind.
This is fairly typical of one of Yimou’s films. There’s lots of intrigue, double-crosses, double-double crosses and the like. The acting is as predictable as the crosses and double-crosses but is competent.
Chao Deng — who plays Commander and his shadow — offers the most interesting acting. Interesting yes, but predictably overdone, overly dramatic and overacted.
So who cares? It’s a Yimou movie and we don’t necessarily love them for the depth of acting nor the story. We’re in it for the colors and the effects. Shadow is done in glorious black and white with some grays tossed in here and there to add shadow to Shadow. The action sequences are — as you expect — packed with slow and fast motion. They’re gorgeous. But that’s not a surprise.
Yimou’s films are always incomparably beautiful.
What Shadow isn’t Yimou’s best work. It is — however — good enough to let you forgive him for his last wuxia film, the disastrous The Great Wall.
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Chao Deng, Li sun, Ryan Zheng, Xiaotong Guan
It’s Zhang Yimou. What’s not to love? Give this one a friendly Friday Flicks with Gary rating of 4 on the 0 to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.