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Review: Shadow – Ying (2018)

Shadow – Ying (2018)

Directed by: Zhang Yimou | 116 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Deng Chao, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng Kai, Wang Qian-Yuan, Wang Jingchun, Hu Jun, Guan Xiaotong, Leo Wu, Feng Bai

‘Shadow’ by Zhang Yimou is set in the era of the Three Kingdoms in China, somewhere between 220-280. It tells a story of kingdoms at war, intrigue, power plays and double agendas. When the film starts there is peace, but not everyone is happy with the current state. The King of Pei is completely devastated when his trusty general returns from a birthday visit to General Yang. Yang has taken the coveted city of Jingzhou some time ago. The actions of the general of Pei can only be seen as a declaration of war, the king believes. And that’s right: against the will and wishes of the king, the general has decided that a one-on-one duel must take place.

However, what is an important plot point – the film takes its title from it – is that the general has a doppelgänger (a shadow). The real general lives hidden somewhere in the castle. The only people who know about this are his beautiful wife and his shadow. In an earlier battle with Yang, the general was seriously injured, but in order not to lose face he uses a doppelgänger, who takes over all public duties from him. Meanwhile, we see that the relationship between the doppelgänger and the general’s wife is also growing stronger. That creates a lot of subcutaneous tension.

Zhang Yimou takes plenty of time to build up his film. The characters are of the caliber of still waters, deep grounds, and it takes a while to get to grips with the story. There is no clear distinction between good and evil. However, once you get through the somewhat grueling first half, you’re sure to be treated to one of the most breathtaking action sequences in recent movie history. In any case, ‘Shadow’ is visually evocative. The costumes and staging have received a lot of attention. The film is almost entirely in black and white, but now and then something of color shines through, especially when the action spectacle starts; then red blood seeps across the screen.

With flair and confident style, ‘Shadow’ depicts a life-or-death struggle, with weapons you’ve probably never seen before. Although the choreography is perfectly fine and you understand what’s at stake, the fight scenes barely touch an emotional chord. The film falls short in this respect, but what Zhang Yimou does well is that, unlike many other action films, the action scenes here are of great added value; they are intended to propel the story forward and not merely serve as entertainment or the false idea of ​​speeding up the film.

After the somewhat disappointing ‘The Great Wall’ (2016), Zhang Yimou’s Hollywood trip, ‘Shadow’ will be a nice reunion for many fans with the Chinese filmmaker, who has built up an impressive oeuvre. This film is not recommended as a starting point for newcomers, but if after seeing some highlights of this director you feel the need for more beautiful things, you will certainly enjoy ‘Shadow’.

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