With a young teen’s understanding of sex, corruption and public administration, The Shadow Play is a captivating display of bold, shambolic filmmaking. Lou Ye’s conspiracy thriller tangles its wicked web of shady businessmen, unscrupulous public servants and hard-bitten coppers into indecipherable knots it can never hope to untie.

When wily detective Yang Jiadong (Jing Boran) witnesses the murder of government construction committee chief Tang Yijie (Zhang Songwen) during a riot in impoverished downtown, he is plunged deep into a mystery that stretches back decades and blends the personal and political.

Ye navigates this convoluted narrative blindfold, crashing between superfluous scenes that barely register with violently erratic quick-cuts and shaky handheld cameras. With the attention span of a goldfish in a tank of Red Bull, the director allows not a single character, performance or moment the berth to make an impression. Darting back and forth along the chronology with an egregious lack of clarity, the finished result is deadeningly murky.

This is bolstered by a screenplay enthralling in its juvenility and naiveté – a preposterously horny cast of dislikable characters undertakes sordid affairs and trysts with abandon, but Ye is too timid to portray the adult interplay with honesty or grit. The same can be said for the interplay of government, business and mass media, which screenwriters Mei Feng, Qui Yujie and Ma Yingli seem to comprehend at a surface, elementary level.

What makes Shadow Play a rollicking good time, despite its glaring shortcomings, is the sporadic interjection of truly inspired, batshit moments of chaos, such as an hysterical, scissors-assisted tussle at the wheel of a moving car or a punch-‘em-up in a capsizing party bus.

Despite its tendency to fall into incomprehensibility and monotony, this Chinese state-approved schlockfest is a wildly inane, earnestly baffling thrill ride.

RATING: 2/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Jing Boran, Song Jia, Qin Hao, Ma Sichun, Zhang Songwen

DIRECTOR: Lou Ye

WRITERS: Mei Feng, Qui Yujie and Ma Yingli

SYNOPSIS: Yang Jiadong, a naive newbie cop, witnesses the chief of the construction committee jumping to his death from a tall building. He immediately begins investigation, but is brutally dismissed from his job and pursued by unknown enemies.

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London-based journalist. Flailing film freelancer. Bylines at ORWAV, CineVue, Sight & Sound, more. Waiting for Greta Gerwig and Barry Jenkins to team up and save the world. Terrified of inevitable Star Wars over-saturation. Proud Yorkshire kid.