Set in the era of China’s Three Kingdoms, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sees darkness shrouding the realms of Pei and Jing, with rain endlessly hammering down upon the region’s inhabitants and the stench of war lingering around every corner. With peace seemingly attained by the inferiority and corruption of Pei’s venal King (Zheng Kai), Pei’s Commander Yu (Chao Deng) leads an army to Jing with the intentions of reclaiming a Kingdom that is rightfully theirs, only to fail and find himself injured, left lurking in the corners of his own destitution. Fearing assassination, Commander Yu entrusts his title to his trained Shadow Jing (also Deng), who embodies his traits, appearance and personality to fool his enemies and face the consequences of his employer’s failings, all the while plotting a scheme of vengeance along with Yu and the Commander’s wife Madam (Li Sun).
His first picture since the release of the questionable monster/action feature The Great Wall starring Matt Damon, the director seems to have taken note of the criticisms fired towards the blockbuster picture, instead taking muse from his more successful and intuitively unique 2004 romance picture House of Flying Daggers – which received a nomination for Best Cinematography at that year’s Academy Awards – and injecting a yin and yang theme. Cinematically speaking, Shadow is glorious, with a deaf-tonal colour palette displaying a film laden with ink. Deep rich greys, blacks and whites are fragmented by actors’ skin tones and the odd environmental elements, which give life and colour to the monochrome landscape. Then, unsurprisingly, there are the expertly choreographed fight scenes, edited together with intricate precision amongst enveloping sets and computer-generated imagery. These visual elements complement the structure of the film and even add greater flesh and creativity to the adventurous battle scenes – with the invention of a deadly lacerating umbrella providing the most entertainment and grimace-inducing fear.
It is thanks to these elements that Shadow builds up to the enthralling, gory climax that it possesses, with the first act proving a slow burner thanks to dialogue-heavy scenes that, although understandably necessary, create multiple plot lines and motivations that prove too confusing and wearying for easily wandering minds. It would have been nice to see the females of the movie feature in more commanding roles, yet this void is filled with the powerful femininity woven into the acts of war, proving a softer touch and leaving the greater devastation behind. The film is emphatically exhausting until the credits role, with its action-packed sequences and bloody gore-filled moments, but we certainly aren’t complaining!
Shadow does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Shadow here: