Reviewed London Film Festival October 2018
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Guan Xiaotong, and Qianvuan Wang
Shot in black and white with grey hues and lashings of blood red to break up the monotone, Shadow is performed against a backdrop of beautifully crafted ancient Chinese palaces and ominous mountains – cue: low-lying clouds and mist over still water. The impressive set designs both interior and exterior are matched by clever techno cinematography (Zhao Xiaoding) and SFXs which bring impossible flying fights and leaping lunges the big screen.
The themes of honour and betrayal between the warring Kingdoms of Pei and Jing and their respective rulers fuel endless twists and turns, not all surprising. The King of Pei’s “shadow” or look-alike, employed as a surrogate in times of danger, is torn between both Kingdoms having been abducted as a child from Jing.
“Whilst Shadow is carefully filmed, and the cast are superb, the film is overwhelmed by men engaged in a bloodbath of disemboweling and mutilation shouting in never-ending crescendos.”
The fascination with Ying and Yang pervades Shadow’s imagery, not least the colouring, and the role of male and female in the film. Alas, the female roles are weakly sketched, despite the very young women (a supplicant commander’s wife and a cross King’s sister) somehow transcending their delicate selves to become warriors brandishing lethal umbrellas made of knives for a scene or two.
Whilst Shadow is carefully filmed, and the cast are superb, the film is overwhelmed by men engaged in a bloodbath of disemboweling and mutilation shouting in never-ending crescendos. There are plenty of gnashing metal blades and resulting massacres and the torrential rain throughout is as relentless and tortuous as the screaming men.