Zhang Yimou’s ‘Shadow’ full of beautiful and bloody intrigue

by Kate Walz on July 10, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: SolidĀ Rock FistĀ Up]

This movie is a visual stunner, the loveliness one expects from Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers).

Shadow, written by Yimou and Li Wei, looks like a Chinese ink wash painting (without editing tricks) but plots like a Shakespearean drama.

The plot is full of intrigue and betrayals – political and personal – as the two warring nations of Pei and Yang have found a sort of truce after the king of Yang (Hu Jun) defeated Pei’s beloved Commander Zi Yu (Deng Chao). Much to the annoyance of Pei’s pathetic king (Zheng Kai), the Commander has challenged the king to a rematch.

But all is not as it seems. The commander has aged rapidly after his loss and is in hiding – no longer able to fight. With the help of his wife (Sun Li), he’s trained a doppleganger, a shadow (also Deng Chao. He plays his dual roles with so much nuance I wasn’t convinced it was the same person until I confirmed it from multiple sources), to impersonate him and fight so that the Pei kingdom will not lose face. But the Commander’s intentions are not entirely honorable.

The movie is frame-by-frame gorgeous, with black and white sets and costumes that aren’t taken to the ridiculous (bamboo is still green, blood is still red).

The fight scenes are interesting and cunning. I personally often hate fight scenes – they go on too long with no plot point and nothing that visually interesting. But these make use different styles and weapons (like umbrellas), as well as camera angles, that make the scenes as mesmerizing as they are violent.

The first half of the movie is tough. The subtitles are a distraction from the visual beauty of the movie. So much groundwork is being laid for the plot that it feels a bit dense.

But when it starts to take off in the second off – it moves at a furious pace, and kingdoms, leaders, and alliances unravel in blood.

Kate Walz

Kate is a content-consuming pop-culture nerd. Her top 5 movies are: The Philadelphia Story, The Master, The Fountain, What About Bob and The Departed.

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