Zhang Yimou is a renowned director in his native China, but has not had success in recent years, has declined in terms of criticism and in favor of the public, his latest films have not been relevant at all, not deserving of multiple awards at film festivals. Would Zhang Yimou return to the top?
Zhang Yimou has fully returned to his cinematographic roots to make what for many has become one of the best movies in his filmography, as well as one of his best movies in recent years.
He chose a story that in itself is very ambitious, it is an adaptation of the Chinese classic of The Three Kingdoms, but in Yimou’s more than capable hands this movie is a sure proof masterpiece and an authentic tour de force. You’ll understand in-depth after reading this article detailing each aspect of this production that will surely catch you completely off guard.
Shadow is a spectacular epic film clearly influenced by the classic wuxia that have forged the confines of Chinese cinema since its inception. This film is not exclusively a means by which Yimou proudly exclaims his love for the wuxia cinema of yesteryear, no, this is a film that is full of intrigue and ambition coupled with struggles of the extraordinary caliber of martial arts.
The story of the movie is that the king’s court is in a complete state of panic. In the past, the walled city of Jing was under the dominion of the king, but a clan commanded by a warrior of brave lineage named Lu Yan (Wang Jingchun) decided to declare itself in rebellion against the dominion of the king.
This is how the king ended up losing influence and power over the walled city of Jing, so much so that the inhabitants of the walled city of Jing see in Lu Yan a hero and a leader.
Willing to make the king regain control of the walled city of Jing, the commander of the royal army Ziyu (Deng Chao) decides to act behind the king’s back and without his permission, decides to declare war on Lu Yan.
Although Zi Yu has been immersed in all sorts of battles for many years, and emerged unharmed from them, feeling ill with a strange debilitating illness, he cannot opt to be the first in the line of succession. So to avoid losing his influence and power, he decides to pass a homeless man named Jingzhou as himself.
The homeless man thus manages to deceive the entire court because of his resemblance to Ziyu, and his mission is to defeat Lu Yan entirely, without raising the slightest hint of suspicion.
Shadow is clearly divided into two distinct parts, one where intrigue and ambition prevail, something that makes it a stage where tension and suspense are felt by the viewer.
Something that will also grab the viewer by surprise is that Shadow also opts for romance and melodrama, (no surprise since Yimou has made a film career directing stories of such themes for the big screen).
Although the surprising thing about everything comes to be how little effective the romantic subplot tends to be in the movie, and by the way how little relevant it turns out to be. The film in its first act finds it extremely difficult to hook or fully attract the viewer even when it has all the ingredients to do so.
In its second part, the film is released from its restrictions, and it’s time to make the leap to action and adventure, that if at any time it is gritty or completely devoid of subtlety, it has grace, style, and a sense of elegance.
There is a sense of escalation from there, where the homage to the wuxia genre is such that it ends up fully vindicating the film in terms of the tonal imbalance prevailing in its first part.
Shadow’s script is something that is not worthy of much praise, the film is melodramatic and tragic, which leads to an overabundance of monologues and extensive expository dialogues that sound completely forced trying to be poetic.
Shadow’s photograph is the most outstanding, by the veteran director of photography Xiaoding Zhao, who contrary to what was established in the past by other wuxia movies that with their vivid colors enhanced the natural exteriors to delight the viewer and immerse them fully in the film, in Shadow Zhao goes to the monochromatic with a varied grayscale that changes in moments of the movie where the blood proliferates and the skin of the characters is exposed.
The wardrobe although not varied in color level, predominantly focus on the colors black and white, and as with photography, also with gray, is extremely well developed, but also has a degraded appearance that gives the wardrobe a lot of authenticities.
The choreography in Shadow is far from the ones already seen in classic wuxia movies as well as in previous Yimou movies such as in The House of Flying Daggers.
The fights are captured accurately through multiple action sequences where the choreography was planned to the smallest detail in that it was neat and elegant, as well as brutal when it is supposed to be but they without losing a bit of their grace.
The bodies of the combatants are intertwined as if they were in the middle of a waltz or dance that even lead them to make impossible jumps, and we must not forget that confrontations always lead to the use of all kinds of weapons, including an umbrella, in a scene of struggle that takes place during the rain.
The music score is undoubtedly appropriate, even with how out of tune is the film for its two halves, the soundtrack maintains a delicate balance that even subtly conveys to the viewer the feelings expressed by the actors through their characters.
As for the actors, they all do an exceptional job, even with a script that is not up to the material, the actors raise the material a lot and keep their dignity practically intact. Special mention goes to Deng Chao who plays a double role in Shadow and excels in both, Sun Li also deserves a lot of praise for her performance as Zi Yu’s wife.
The shadow end disappoints, unfortunately, although Yimou himself co-wrote the script, the end ended up being terribly anticlimactic, although it really must be applauded how unpredictable it is, it should be noted that with so much twist and turns in the last stretch, the balance ends up being lost.
The scenography is impressive, and there was a lot of work on it, the same can be said of the sets and the wirework that did not catch too much attention to itself. The special effects, on the other hand, were a bit iffy in places, but still good nonetheless and well used sparingly in a certain number of shots.
Despite having many merits, Shadow has some flaws, but that doesn’t the viewer won’t enjoy the opportunity of a unique film experience. It fulfills what it promises, it is an adventure and fantastic action romp of a movie with a flair for melodrama and intrigue and it satisfies completely in all these aspects.
There is nothing wrong with it, If Zhang Yimou continues to make movies with this same level of ambition and skill, he will surely continue to impress a legion of viewers that will continue to grow with each new release.