A masterfully written and directed epic drama with a stunning finale!
Zhang Yimou's Chinese period drama Shadow (2019) is a resplendent return to form for the master director behind Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Shadow is primarily a palace intrigue drama with an intricate plot full of deception, doubles, assassination, suspicion, and intrigue. Li Wei and Zhang Yimou's dialogue is written loaded with double meanings and hidden nuance as brought to life by Yimou's excellent cast.
Yimou's direction is as stunning as he ever created for any of his films. The near black and white aesthetic is striking, especially as it highlights the flushes of red blood spattered across the battlefield. Shadow is Yimou's most reserved and most bloody film simultaneously. The first hour and a half is setup for a gruesome duel and a brutal battle. The brisk 116 minute run-time absorbs you into this colorless world of political schemes. The combat is fluid like water washing across the characters. Zhang Yimou is untouchable as the finest visual director to ever grace cinemas the world over.
Shadow takes place entirely in the rain over the span of a week. The constantly falling rain is beautiful, haunting, foreboding, and ambient noise all at once. Yimou's choice of mostly quiet scenes let's the sound design in Shadow thrive. Characters breathing hard, swinging swords, or gushing blood will be emphasized like the rainwater hitting the hard cold stone floors in Shadow. As for Lao Zi's score, Shadow is full of traditional Chinese folk with passionate playing right there on screen with diegetic music performed by Shadow's characters. Zi creates an unnerving atmosphere as anyone can die during these tense fights sequences set to Shadow's subtle score.
Shadow is seriously breathtaking to look at with Zhao Xiaoding's careful cinematography always revealing character's emotions through their eyes. The sweeping motions in Shadow's combat sequences are potentially the most inspired shots of Yimou's career. Instead of fast paced action, Shadow's fights are meticulously choreographed down to specific movements for particularly dazzling duels. Each bloody cut is brutal to witness.
Furthermore, Xiaoding's point of view shots are fascinating as Shadow is also about people watching each other through obscured vantage points. Characters will gaze at each other through cracks in the wall, silken drapes, holes in armor, and rain rushing past their faces. Shadow makes sure to inform the audience of whose can see whom and when for a captivating effect as Shadow' viewer is always aware of these viewpoints.
Horace Ma's production design is lovely. The monochromatic color palette for Shadow is impossible not to notice and you appreciate it all the more once the crimson blood taints the beautiful black and white look of everything. The use of detailed costumes, covert makeup, and pristine haircuts culminate in Shadow's impressive production value. You will never forget the look of Shadow thanks to Ma's work here.
Notably, Shadow's cast is immaculate down to the supporting characters. I am floored by Deng Chao in his dual roles. He plays the crazy vengeful Commander Yu as well as the dejected shadow Jing. His presence and gravitas is undeniable and unique as Commander, while his style is unassuming and mysterious as Jing. He gives the performance of a lifetime twice over in Shadow.
Likewise, Sun Li is magnificent as the gorgeous and forlorn Madame. You feel her loneliness and unhappiness. You empathize with her conflicting desires for Jing as a lover and her devotion to Yu. Li plays her sympathetic in a powerful performance of nuance and devastation. Similarly, Guan Xiaotong is adorable and fierce as The Princess of Pei. She gets a vicious combat sequence that is pretty hard to watch her get hurt.
I must mention Ryan Zheng Kai is brilliant as the knowledgeable and foolish King of Pei. His wisdom is admirable despite his age, but his cunning and ruthlessness makes him a worthy antagonist alongside hidden foes. Lastly, Wang Quan-Yuan is excellent as Captain Tian. Hu Jun is fearsome as the massive General Yang. His imposing stature and deadly skill make him a killer secondary villain.
In all, Shadow lives up to Zhang Yimou's legacy as a phenomenal director of Chinese epics. You have to see Shadow!
4 of 5 stars
This movie was actually kind of awesome! This is a Chinese film, released last year in its home country but released in 2019 in North America. In ancient China, an army commander's decoy, or shadow, trains for a one-on-one battle to the death with the commander of the enemy army to determine who wins a captured city, and it just gets crazier from there. While this movie was kind of slow for the first half hour or so, it really picks up after that! This movie is absolutely beautiful. It has a colour scheme of mostly black and white. It is always cloudy and it is always raining. It looks like a painting, it's just a feast for the eyes. The performances were really good. A lot of the acting in this movie is very subtle and you need to pay close attention to their facial expressions and body language. The fight choreography is also brilliant. It's super bloody and brutal, and also very creative! The main character fights with one of the coolest weapons I've ever seen in a movie, an umbrella made out of blades! The music was also pretty fantastic. Overall, I highly recommend this movie! It's beautiful, unique and awesome! Check it out!
4 of 5 stars
4 of 5 stars
Beautiful to look at with only the colors of black,white and gray. Story is a little slow at first, but when that "Ah Ha!" moment comes, it's worth the wait.
4 of 5 stars
Great choreography, visually stunning, a great story about power and deceit.
5 of 5 stars
Blobbo can't find reason to take away stars or star parts.
5 of 5 stars
A masterpiece. Sure the 1st reel has to set up the final two, but what a magnificent 2nd half. Cinematography should win an Oscar and the film should win Best Foreign Film (be nice to see it nominated in Best Picture Category. Great plot twists and you never know who will survive. Best film I've seen this year. Chao Deng also deserves accolades in a dual role that you can't believe he pulls off and you'll think they are two different actors.
3.5 of 5 stars
Filme chines lindíssimo, parece preto e branco, so se destaca o tom de pele.
4 of 5 stars
Shadow/影, co-written & directed by visionary Chinese director Zhang Yimou, as the poster says, the genius behind Hero and House of Flying Daggers. I confess I've only seen Hero from him, and The Great Wall. I will watch House of Flying Daggers and review it next.
The characters in Shadow are loosely based on legendary Chinese warriors from the Han Dynasty, some of them include Sun Quan, Zhou Yu, and Guan Yu to name a few.
Shadow tells the story of assassins known as shadows who are unrecognised throughout history because their job is to operate silently and discreetly to the point no ones they exist at all. It follows the protagonist Jingzhou who is a shadow and doppelganger of Commander Ziyu (based on Zhou Yu). Ziyu was injured after a deadly battle against Yang Cang (based on Guan Yu). Ziyu tasks his shadow Jingzhou to act as Ziyu himself while he recuperates in a hidden cave in the palace.
Ziyu wants to get revenge on Yang Cang for the last battle and he trains Jingzhou on how to counter Yang Cang's strikes with an umbrella blade as seen in the poster, yes it's an umbrella blade. After failing multiple times, Ziyu's wife, Xiao Ai (based on Xiao Qiao) suggests that Jingzhou utilise a feminine movement that symbolises water, which is described as Yin, because Yang Cang's strikes symbolises fire, described as Yang.
The film is not black and white but it uses black and white colour palettes to correlate with the Yin & Yang theme. Even though the colours are black and white, the story tells us that things are not always black and white, referencing the fact that Jingzhou is not the real Ziyu. Yimou's films always have a secret plan in his plots.
Yimou may have failed impressing us in The Great Wall but you have to admit the visuals and the costumes were beautiful. This time with Shadow, he has exceeded expectations. A master of art. Beautiful cinematography along with a great score, Yimou is here to prove he has not lost his touch and still knows how to make films. Especially the scene with the army using the umbrella blades to slide through the rain in the city, that was fantastic.
1.5 of 5 stars
Slow and not much action. Some twists, but would not watch again.