Shadow is a Shakespearean samurai movie that only sags when it’s not showcasing its stunning fight choreography.
The film, set in ancient China, throws the viewer in the heat of an ongoing battle between kingdoms for a lost city. With just a few title cards to bring us up to speed, Shadow quickly becomes a tough story for movie goers to involve themselves with. There’s a long period of catching up as we acquaint ourselves with the overzealous King Peiliang (Zheng Kai), the sullen Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao), and their conflicted relationship. The story becomes more layered as its revealed that Commander Ziyu is actually a stand-in named Jing, a “shadow” trained by the real Ziyu (also played by Chao) as he reels from his own crippling past and prepares Jing for the next important chapter in the apprentice’s life.
Once we’re caught up, Shadow is riveting as more tension unfolds from the result of this convert operation by Ziyu. Although we’re decently satisfied, director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) also reveals his own not-so-secret talent – sensational fight choreography. Once he’s given the audience a slight taste of Shadow’s action, we want more of it; it’s a bit of a letdown when the duels are far and few between. Suddenly, the script (written by Yomou and Li Wei) feels like it’s too staggered, wavering the audience’s interest.
Yimou, however, spoils movie goers rotten with an jaw-dropping climactic battle that carries the film towards its final act, and it’s as amazing as we expect it to be. This saving grace averages Shadow as a middle-of-the-road martial arts movie with spontaneous bursts of miraculous energy.
Shadow is now playing at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie