At this point in his illustrious career, it is a testament to director Zhang Yimou’s abilities that he can still surprise audiences at this point in his career. After all, this the man who gave the world many masterful works such as Raise the Red Lantern and Hero. Refusing to rest on his laurels, Zhang latest martial arts epic Shadow, is another poetic feast for the senses.
Filled with political intrigue and boundary pushing action sequences, the film focuses on the fragile period of truce between once feuding kingdoms. While the King (Zheng Kai) of the Pei Kingdom is enjoying the spoils of a peaceful existence with the Yan Kingdom, not everyone shares the same views as their cowardly ruler. The King’s top counsel Commander Yu (Deng Chao) has taken it upon himself to propose a duel with old foe, and the Yan Kingdom’s master swordsman, General Yang (Hu Jun). Claiming that the competition is merely a test of skills, Yu’s explanation does not sit well the King who is irate over the blatant disobedience.
Fearing that such a duel could reignite a war between the kingdoms, the King set in motion a plan to marry off his youngest sister (Guan Xiatong) to Yang’s son Ping (Wu Lei). Unbeknownst to the King, Yu has a scheme of his own. A plan that involves a doppelganger named Jing (Deng in a duel role), who has been trained from a young age to be Yu’s “shadow.”
As only Yu and his wife Madam (Sun Li), who is also a sister of the King, know of the shadow’s existence, and with the seeds of deceit planted, it is only a matter of time before chaos blossoms.
Drenched in a grey and white colour palette Shadow is a visually hypnotic work. Everything thing from the intricate set designs to the way water plays a pivotal role in the fight sequences is exquisite. Zhang’s work is so masterful that he even makes bringing an umbrella to a sword fight feel undeniable cool and deadly.
While the visual splendor and thrilling action sequences are more than worth the price of admission, Shadow’s plot is equally intriguing. Weaving together a layered tale of deception, forbidden love and corruption, Zhang’s film unfolds in a captivating way. Mixing in unexpected moments of humour amongst the gripping drama, the film remains enthralling even when one can see a few of the plot turns coming.
Zhang Yimou’s Shadow is a gorgeous and inventive martial arts epic which permanently leaves one’s jaw on the floor.