From the director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers comes Shadow, a 2018 Chinese wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou. To achieve victory over a rival kingdom, a general devises an elaborate plan that involves his wife, a lookalike, and two kings.
I’ve meant to see Shadow for the past two years, but my luck really hasn’t been that great as many could tell. But what I’ve noticed that despite how acclaimed both this film and director are, it’s really seemed like it’s gone under the reader. This is a massive shame because this is a stunning display of craftsmanship from a director who’s clearly seasoned with this genre.
Anyone well versed with Yimou’s filmography will know that Shadow is nothing short of visual splendor. While filmed with color in mind, the color scheme mostly utilizes black and white. Characters retain skin tone but really show true wonders when characters bleed out, and that vibrant red has such great contrast. As intended, the film is one giant Chinese ink-wash painting. And it shines in every shot.
One thing to expect out of this genre is grand battle sequences, and they don’t disappoint. Terrific choreography and masterful compositions make every swing and gesture pop out on the screen in such dazzling fashion.
The action is everything you could hope for, but I was most impressed by how confidence was on display regarding how the film chooses to tell this story. Deception is the main theme at play. With all of the major characters all having their own agendas, which may not seem clear at first, but they collide spectacularly when least expected. Zhang Yimou really puts a lot of trust in the audience to pay attention to every little detail so that they can truly understand what’s played here. A daunting prospect at first, but wholly rewarding when the film reaches its bloody finale.
I also really liked the romance plot injected here, as expected out of Chinese martial arts films. The central forbidden love story is acted perfectly and never feels unnaturally sappy. And it really plays into that deception angle as we come to grips with the motivations of our central cast.
Shadow reminds me that I really need to watch more martial arts movies. It’s gorgeous, terrifically performed, and full of narrative turns and twists that caught me off guard. I wish that more people would go out and see this film because it truly delivers on everything you can ask for.