Zhang Yimou makes his return after 2016’s rather disappointing The Great Wall – the most expensive production made in China – with Shadow, a dark tale of a warrior who uses his lookalike in an attempt to take down a rival kingdom against the wishes of his King.
Visually, Shadow is in keeping with its title. Unlike the colourful aesthetics that the legendary director is known for, Shadow is mostly black and white in design, the costumes and set looking as if they’ve been dipped in ink. But everything looks surprisingly deep and rich despite the lack of colour.
The first half of the film focuses on setting up the complex plot, with very little action breaking up long conversations – which doesn’t always make the multiple storylines any clearer. Commander Jing and his double (both played by Deng Chao) train for the battle to reclaim the city they once lost, and though it’s expected that this would mean that the film explores the idea of duality and identity, there’s actually very little of that here, as Yimou is simultaneously juggling a political plotline involving the King, as well as a revenge plot with the King’s younger sister.
Shadow is a film that is saved by its second half. But once seen to the end, the first half seems much more important, winding up information slowly to build tension until it is released in spectacular fashion later on. In an explosive display of violence and fantastic weapons (steel-bladed umbrellas, anyone?), each carefully set up story descends into bloody violence, the red blood of enemies and allies showing bright against the colourless backdrops.
With a slow building first half that moves smoothly into an intense and surprisingly violent resolution, Shadow is a dark, beautifully shot tale of betrayal and revenge.
CAST: Deng Chao, Sun Li, Guan Xiaotong, Kai Zheng, Leo Wu
WRITERS: Wei Li, Zhang Yimou
DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou
SYNOPSIS: Set in Ancient China, an army commander prepares to invade a rival city against the wishes of his King.