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The Shadow You Are & Deep Within, the Shadow You Aren’t

The Shadow
Available to purchase on Amazon (4K)

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Released Aug 13, 2019

Zhang Yimou’s Shadow is a kind of wuxia film to be best watched on the big screen for its details and colour contrasts. After being enthralled, it should be viewed again on home video to understand its complex narrative. I certainly needed it especially since it last played theatrically at Fantasia Fest 2019.

This tragic tale of court drama is the type I feel Shakespeare will love, and if there is a person whom I feel is damned, that would be the king’s Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao). He challenged General Yang (Hu Jun) from a nearby settlement to a duel without royal authorization and this battle complicates things.

King Peiliang (Zhang Kai) wants that city back under his rule. He goes as far as offering his sister Princess Qingping (Guan Xiaotong) as a wife for Yang’s son, and she doesn’t like the idea at all. To make matters worse, the shadow (to which this movie gets its name) is a doppelgänger masquerading as Ziyu while the real one is recovering. Only his wife Madam (Sun Li) knows and if things are not bad enough, she has feelings for the lookalike.

Visually, Yimou’s work is visually gorgeous. The details he puts into the work (namely the fight sequences) is simply amazing–even if it uses digital effects and wire work to pull off the stunts. Incorporating yin and yang is purposeful in the meaning behind this film. It’s not as easy as comparing this work to Alexandre Dumas‘ Man in the Iron Mask. Unlike his past works Hero and House of Flying Daggers which has a lot more colour to them, this one defines the shadows as various shades of grey. He fully achieves China’s centuries-old tradition of ink-wash painting into live-action form with the rain-swept region of China to which this tale takes place.

I believe the eternal wet landscape casts an air of melancholy to the tale as it unfolds. Even the soundtrack underscores the emotions going on.

Madness eventually grips Ziyu. Despair already runs deep within Peiliang. Their performances define this movie. To see who is willing to ally with whom (and perhaps switch) makes this film intriguing. Be warned, this movie is very verbose. At least by the film’s end, I had to wonder if a saying similar to beware the Ides of March exists in this culture?

4 Stars out of 5

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