Review: Zhang Yimou’s ‘Shadow’ (影) Reaches the Absolute Zenith of Artistic Violence In Motion Pictures

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Quintessentially wuxia in nature, Shadow (影) plays more akin to a modified Greek tragedy, sneaking upon the watcher like a trojan horse, where theatricized violence reaches the absolute zenith of creative expression, and whose elements are all held together by a wrapping of periodic Chinese drama. If depicting sword-fighting and bloodshed as an altered form of the art that is Chinese calligraphy seems in any way intriguing, Shadow is the movie for you.

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I’ll say it off the bat: Zhang Yimou is back with a vengeance with ‘Shadow’. Starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, the acclaimed Chinese director might have fallen off the tracks in recent years after the letdown that was The Great Wall (2016), but if anyone had any doubts that the man behind such timeless movies as Ju  Dou (1990), Raise the Red Lantern (1991) Hero (2003), and my personal favorite, Red Sorghum (1987,) had lost his creative touch, those doubts can safely be laid to rest. If depicting sword-fighting and bloodshed as an altered form of the art that is Chinese calligraphy seems in any way intriguing, Shadow is the movie for you.

Review: Zhang Yimou’s ‘Shadow’ Reaches the Absolute Zenith of Artistic Violence In Motion Pictures

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Propelled by a masterful acting tour-de-force by Deng Chao, who pulls double duty as the once great Commander Ziyu and his body-double Jingzhou, Shadow delivers a hugely satisfyingly result on a seemingly simple plot: Jingzhou, under the guise of Commander Ziyu, breaks the news to King Peliang of  Pei (Zheng Cai) that he has challenged Yang Cang to a duel, a rematch of sorts for Ziyu who suffered a devastating and death-accelerating blow at the hands of Yang Cang’s spear.

The cowardly king, portrayed as non-belligerent to an absolute fault, is incensed that Ziyu would jeopardize Pei’s peace treaty with Yang Cang.

 

After dismissing Ziyu, he tells his closest advisor to send news that he would marry his young sister Qingping to Yang Cang’s son, Yang Ping, as a token to show his dedication to maintaining the peace treaty.

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When the advisor later returned to give news of Yang Ping’s decision he revealed at the royal court that the he denied the marriage request, instead agreeing to take Qingping as a concubine. King Peiliang’s acceptance of the embarrassing arrangement would send his sister into a frenzy.

Elsewhere in Pei, Jingzhou’s training continues at the hands of his master Ziyu, until one day his wife Xiao Ai shares her brilliant idea of using an umbrella as way to counter Yang Cang’s seemingly unbeatable spear, a sort of yin (female force) to a yang (male force).

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Ziyu would agree, and thus was born Pei’s metal umbrella, which would prove a highly efficient and creative instrument of destruction. But while Jingzhou’s training advances, so does a budding romance with Ziyu’s wife who had to constantly pretend to the sham marriage in public.

Without completely spilling the beans as to what happens, let’s just say that Shadow knows how to keep a viewer on his toes with unexpected twists and turns, at least when things reach fever pitch. Even if the plot doesn’t present any ground-breaking elements, if the depiction sword-fighting and bloodshed as an altered form of the art that is Chinese calligraphy seems in any way intriguing, Shadow is the movie for you. I qualify it as a must-watch.

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