Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Chao Deng, Li Sun, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang
Known for his gorgeous visual storytelling, legendary director Zhang Yimou is back with his follow-up to the disappointing (albeit aesthetically beautiful) The Great Wall (2016), and thankfully back in more familiar territory now with Chinese-language film Shadow.
More akin to his most well-known films Hero and House of Flying Daggers as opposed to the aforementioned blockbuster, Shadow is a story steeped in mysterious Chinese history that sees the director return to his legendary best.
The ‘Shadow’ of the title refers to the mantle given to those who would impersonate and fight in the place of Chinese nobility and Commanders when they were unable to do so themselves. The film focuses on one such ‘Shadow’, Jing (Chao Deng), who pretends to be Commander Yu (also played by Deng), and his journey to reclaim their homeland.
What ensues is a visual feast for the eyes, Yimou choosing a striking monochrome colour-palette for his film, based on the tai chi symbol; commonly known as the yin and yang. Not only does this symbol provide the visual framework but it also forms part of the narrative device, and that helps this film to feel truly unique.
It is a little slow in the beginning, but much care is taken to establish the delicate political imbalances, and there’s some early moments of high tension as those around him start to suspect that the ‘Commander’ is an imposter. Of course, we know he is, but the majority of the characters don’t, and this makes for a tense and unsettling atmosphere way before the bloodshed.
When the violence does come, boy does it come, and Yimou shoots the beautifully choreographed fight scenes masterfully. The muted colour palette means the flashes of red blood are dramatic and impactful, making Shadow one of the most exquisitely brutal films you will see all year.
There’s some truly spectacular moments, as one would expect with a Yimou film, and this ensures that despite the predictability of the film’s plot, that it still stays with you afterwards. This film is truly striking from a visual standpoint, and narratively speaking it is one of the more accessible of Zhang Yimou’s films. Shadow marks a triumphant return to form for the Chinese director and is easily able to stand alongside his previous notable works.