Wednesday, May 15, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.19: Shadow

Yes, I'm doing the "number posts like IFFBoston was still going on when one of its selections hits theaters" bit before I've even started full reviews of its movies. I'm slow this year, and this is one I passed on there because it would have overlapped two slots for movies that might not get the theatrical release that this was all-but-guaranteed to get.

Although not quite - Well Go has had it sitting on a shelf since its National Day release in China, one of a couple where they figured that getting it in front of a broad audience rather than the immigrants, students, and expats would pay off - and then they pushed it another week when they picked up Savage and figured that a lot of markets, Boston included, couldn't handle quite that much Chinese cinema, especially with Avengers still devouring screens.

The funny thing is, all that delay meant that pre-orders for the 4K disc at DDD House (my go-to source for Hong Kong Blu-rays, which are Region A, almost always include English subtitles, and often include stuff not available in North America at all even beyond Chinese movies) had to be in before its US theatrical release, which seems crazy to me. There was an outside chance that I'd be able to tweet out a photo of my ticket and the disc that arrived while I was seeing the movie, although that didn't happen. What did happen was that pre-orders went up for an American 4K release of this movie, as of this writing available for pre-order on Amazon for something like half of what I paid (especially if you figure Prime shipping versus international).

Kind of outsmarted myself there, but the important part is that it's on the big screen right now and looks amazing, so you should see it, but if you can't, it will look as amazing as it can at home.

Ying (Shadow)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Zhang Yimou's Shadow is probably the most visually striking wuxia film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so striking that when it gets off to a bit of a halting start, one might be tempted to consider that an acceptable trade-off for just being able to look at the thing for a couple hours. That it would quickly becomes more was not guaranteed, but it does, offering up palace intrigue an spurts of action that make it one of the best films that the genre has produced in recent years.

It opens in a time of tension between the Wei and Yang kingdoms; though technically allied, Yang occupies Jing City, traditionally Wei territory. The Wei king (Ryan Zheng Kai) accepts this, not wishing to endanger the peace, but his Commander (Deng Chao) has just foolishly proposed to duel with Yang (Hu Jun), which could lead to war. It seems like an absurd mistake for this seasoned and respected general to make, but there is a secret few outside "Madam" (Sun Li), the Commander's wife, know: The Commander has a double, trained since childhood to stand in for him, but since he was wounded in his last battle this shadow (Deng) has been posing as the Commander full time. The king attempts to counter this situation by arranging a marriage between Yang's son Ping (Leo Wu Lei) and his sister (Guan Xiaotong), but despite all the wheels turning within wheels, a showdown between master swordsman Yang and the Commander's less-accomplished doppelganger.

Zhang and co-writer Li Wei sometimes waver a bit in how to communicate this - some bits of the backstory are dropped as text in the beginning, and some is initially left for the audience to figure out before someone spells it out just to make sure - but the imagery is built to make sure that what's going on-screen has one's attention. Costumes, props, and settings are all blacks, whites, grays, and silvers, and considering the pallor of many character, there are times when one might initially think that the whole film was shot in black-and-white. The flesh tones betray that it wasn't, and that's jarring for a second, but there's apparent purpose to it - you can tell which characters are creatures of the palace and which spend time in the outside world by their pallor or lack thereof. When other colors start showing up in the palette, it's to clear purpose - red blood to boldface the violence, and a bit of gold to dazzle and distract, as much a signal to the audience that there is subterfuge going on as something to genuinely draw the eye.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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