Shadow (2019) Review. Zhang Yimou

Director Zhang Yimou is best known to fans of Chinese cinema as the director of the critically acclaimed epics Hero and House of Flying Daggers. He tried his style in Hollywood with The Great Wall in 2016 but it was a critical and box office failure.

In late 2018 he decided to come back to the Wuxia genre with Shadow, a movie set during China’s Three Kingdom’s era (AD 220-280).

In a kingdom ruled by a young, petulant and unpredictable king, the military commander has a secret weapon: a “shadow”, a look-alike who can fool both his enemies as well as the King himself. Now he must use this weapon in an intricate plan that will lead his people to victory in a war that the King forbids and says will never happen.

shadow from zhang yimou
Shadow from director Zhang Yimou

Beatifully shot in an inky black and grey tone, the splashes of colour, for example blood in the action scenes really stand out. Credit must go to the director of photography Zhao Xiaoding (“House of Flying Daggers), production designer Ma Kwong Wing, and costume designer Chen Minzheng who constructed the mostly monochromatic world. In fact it is almost an opposite of the director’s movie Curse of The Golden Flower (2006). The action scenes when they come after the slow but interesting build up are stunning, with brutal bloody weapons duels and a fantastic sequence with metal bladed umbrellas.

Some may find the build up and court intrigue slow, the themes of Yin and Yang weaved into the narrative, but the story builds at a steady pace and brings you to an epic battle scene and a final twist which many may see coming.

The actors are all excellent in the roles and this definately sees the director back where he belongs and i do hope its not too long a gap before we see his next action epic.

The film has been released on DVD and Blu ray in the UK, but with very little fanfare (this deserved a cinema release as it would look stunning on a big screen). The UK DVD and Blu ray are dissapointing with no extras and burnt in English subtitles. The release from WellGo in the USA is much better with a few short extras. The film has also had a 4K disc release in both countries also.

A film that is a must see for anyone interested in Chinese cinema and it baffles me why this did not get more attention when released.

FILM – 8.5 out of 10

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