Shadow signals the powerful return of Chinese director Zhang Yimou to the wuxia epics, whose fanciful conception he dominates from top to bottom. The veteran filmmaker, whose extensive filmography includes masterpieces such as Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and To Live (1994), collaborated with Wei Li in the script of this fabulous tale set during the Three Kingdom era.
The selfish, presumptuous, and short-tempered King of Pei (Zheng Kai) is worried about the advancements of General Yang (Hu Jun), an unbeatable warrior who already took the neighbor city of Jingzhou. For his defense, the king relies on the high-ranked Commander Yu (Deng Chao), a quick-witted spearman whose true identity is Jing. Essentially, the plebeian Jing is the ‘shadow’ of the real Yu, meaning that he has been trained intensively to become his double since he was rescued from the streets 20 years before.
“…he has been trained intensively to become his double since he was rescued from the streets 20 years before.”
Jing is confident that he can beat General Yang in a duel. However, the gutless King opts for a different strategy, offering his sister (Guan Xiaotong) in marriage. The future husband would be Yang’s insolent son, Ping (Leo Wu), who insults the princess by proposing an alternative solution: to take her as a concubine.
Jing is demoted of his duties for disobeying the king’s orders, and still, he doesn’t give up the idea of dueling Yang. Yu keeps training him and fortuitously finds the pathway to victory through a smart tactic suggested by his wife, Madam (Sun Li).
“…sumptuous sensory feast filled with spectacle, surprise, and madness.”
Entailing dramatic tension, especially with the forbidden love between Jing and Madam, the film then segues into spectacular battles, complemented by terrific musical moments and a broad sense of uncertainty.
The physical confrontations take the shape of balletic dances, meticulously choreographed with whirlingly lethal umbrellas in the mix. Visually, it never ceases to dazzle our eyes, either through the quasi-monochromatic canvases displaying misty Chinese landscapes or the ingenious costume design. Shadow is a sumptuous sensory feast filled with spectacle, surprise, and madness.
Shadow (2018)Directed by Zhang Yimou. Written by Zhang Yimou and Li Wei. Starring Deng Chao, Zheng Kai, Sun Li, Hu Jun, Guan Xiaotong, Leo Wu.
8 out of 10 stars