Ostensibly a return to the populist wuxia films of Chinese director Zhang Yimou‘s mid-2000s hayday, Shadow instead feels more like an exercise in extended foreplay. In his most broadly Shakespearean film (hidden identities, cave-dwelling eccentrics, elaborate orchestrations of revenge), Zhang spends nearly two-thirds of the runtime reveling in courtly pretense and strategem, punctuated only briefly by scenes of lightly-stylized sparring. So when the spectacle of the climax arrives, it’s tenor so distinctly Zhang, it feels a bit short shrift to move so immediately into the denouement, where the general theme of human corruptibility, and a barely-there love story, aren’t really enough to hold interest. Clearly, Shadow was conceived as a visual exercise; shot in gorgeous black-and-white (by his own admission, a response to his typically bold coloring, though this is equally as ostentatious), it’s best appreciated aesthetically, with any metaphorical readings generally too simplistic to take that seriously. Shadow may not be nearly as accomplished as its clear precedents — and it falls somewhere between Hero and House of Flying Daggers in terms of its plot-to-pomp ratio — but Zhang proves that, operating in this vibrant, superficial mode, he’s still capable of generating the requisite thrills.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 5.