Substantive Style & Harmony: Our Review of ‘Shadow’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 09, 2019
Substantive Style & Harmony: Our Review of ‘Shadow’

The halls of power are usually dripping with blood…

I’ll grant that it’s a story we’ve seen before in various iterations BUT Shadow has an unmistakable sense of style and panache to it thanks to some masterful production design and direction.

In a kingdom ruled by a young and unpredictable king, the military commander has a secret weapon: a “shadow”, a look-alike who can fool both his enemies and the King himself. Now he must use this weapon in an intricate plan that will lead his people to victory in a war that the King does not want.

Shadow is ultimately a master class in craftsmanship because even though it does admittedly start a touch slow, it’s a stylish slow burn to a last half of a film that is wall to wall with some of the best looking martial arts action to hit the screen in almost 20 years.

Visually inspired by the tai-chi diagram (otherwise known as Yin & Yang) this movie works in the blacks, the greys and the whites and it’s bichromatic like universe is really what adds to the genuine ambience of the film.  Zhang Yimou really leans into it as it all feels very much like a storyteller hard at work to give us a story with its own unique twist to it all.

Motifs get repeated but everything in this story moves along making some subtle and incremental changes along the way in order to ensure that the material remains as fresh as humanly possible.

It’s all kind of a joy to watch, even in that first hour where the narrative really drags at somewhat of a snail’s pace as the second half of it all makes up for it in bombastic cavalcade of style.  It’s not Yimou’s most emotionally complete film, but it’s pretty damn close.  It almost plays out like a counter point to his earlier films like Hero & House of Flying Daggers as those were awash in colour these play in the shadows (pun intended) and it really makes for a beautiful experience.

The cast is solid from top to bottom, but outside of Deng Chao in the duel lead there really isn’t a lot in depth performances for people to hang on to.  Ryan Zheng got to chew some scenery as the petulant young king while everyone else held their roles well.

I’ll admit that the style certainly doesn’t out way the substance on this one but we’re genuinely engaged enough with everything that is transpiring on an emotional level that this movie does manage to feel more personal then the visuals would allow you to suspect.

At the end of the day Shadow isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s an effort from a filmmaker who really feels like is trying to strike the exact balance between all the elements that are in play in a movie like this.  People can (and will) come for the style and action elements that are all in play and make us feel like this is a period piece set in The Matrix but he still allows the characters enough room to breathe to make sure that we are just looking at our watches between stylish set pieces.

  • Release Date: 5/10/2019
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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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