Shadow (2018) – review

Or I should call it “a visual, moving poem.” But more on that a bit later.

This is a Chinese movie I recently had the pleasure of watching. It’s also a recent release, as you can tell by the year, 2018.

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This movie was shown at 2 movie festivals already and it has 3 release dates, depending on the region you’re considering. If you want, you learn more about it from its IMDb page or its wiki page.

As if this wasn’t obvious enough,we’re talking about a story set in ancient China, but it’s not real history. This is a fantasy story, and one that seems boring at first. Let’s start with the spoilers.

We’re taken into the palace of some young king where we meet him and his younger and prettier sister.

The main character of the story is the Shadow Jingzhou. The shadows were people employed and trained by the aristocracy to protect themselves from getting killed. Our Shadow is that of the king’s commander, Ziyu (seen on the right in the poster).

This character is pretty smart or quick-witted, but he lacks the skills of the person he’s impersonating – that of playing beautiful music and fighting.

The Commander also has a beautiful wife, referred to as Madam. In the past, and even nowadays, Chinese people wouldn’t call people by their names, but by their status, relation to someone, or job title, depending on the situation.

Madam was also very talented at playing music. She also knew how to fight, and this proved useful later in the movie.

The plot revolves around the city of Jingzhou that our king wants back. His Commander (the real one) lost the city in a duel years back, to an adversary kingdom. The 2 kingdoms tried to keep the peace though. However, the Commander’s Shadow (who everyone thinks to be the real commander) challenges the commander of the other kingdom to a duel, to try to regain the city back. 

This infuriates the king, and he tries to hang on to the peace treaty, and offers his sister as a wife for the enemy’s commander’s son. The son says he’ll accept the Princess as his concubine, which is an insult. The king however accepts the terms.

Our Shadow now must train not only to learn how to play music but also how to fight. The technique he must learn uses a weapon-umbrella, made of many blades. Madam is in charge of teaching him because she has certain movements that prove to be really effective against the enemy’s weapon, a very long and strong spear. Additionally, 100 other people are trained to use the weaponized umbrella.

While the duel between Jingzhou, the fake commander, and the enemy’s commander was supposed to be a one-on-one affair, things didn’t really happen as such. The 100 trained men also came in secret, and they were accompanied by the King’s younger sister. She came to kill the guy insulting her with his proposal, and she manages to do so.

It is during this battle that one of the most memorable scenes takes place. I’m referring to the dozen of men using weaponized umbrellas as some makeshift sleds that resembled clamshells. They slide down the main street of Jingzhou, with the help of the pouring rain. It’s a scene worthy of any action movie from Hollywood, if you ask me.

In the end, Jingzhou regains the city for his king, not without getting very injured. The Princess dies, driving the king nearly insane. Both armies suffer greatly. Later on, the king throws a party to rejoice and celebrate the victory, though it turns out he doesn’t allow anyone to touch a drop of wine, and kicks everyone out, except a few people.

It’s now revealed that the king knew one of his most trusted people was betraying him, and thus he gets killed by the king. Then the king talks a bit in circles while hinting he knew that his Commander was actually a Shadow. One of his soldiers returns with a box that was supposed to hold the head of the real Commander, but it’s actually empty. We also learn that the soldier is actually the Commander himself.

Through a twist of events and words, both the king and the real commander die – I’ll have to let you see how it happens – with the Shadow claiming he’s the commander, and that the king was killed by an intruder, but that he killed the intruder.   

What I liked about this movie:

  • It was very artistic. The artistry came from the fact that they edited the movie in white and black, as opposed to having a color film. This is why i said in the beginning this was a “visual, moving poem.”
  • This was one of the wettest movies I’ve seen in a while – it rained all the time throughout the story. I have no idea how people managed to stay dry or how they grew food.
  • Many of the scenes were slowed down instead of sped up. This added to the artistic feel of it. The fighting scenes were slowed down the most.
  • Their clothes – well, what can I say? I’m a sucker for flowy Chinese garments, even though I have nothing to prove it. I’m keeping this preference under wraps, because it hurts too much to like something so much but not being able to own or wear it.
  • Not many characters. There’s not much to say here: a few main characters, and not many extras either.
  • That i just realized the Shadow and the city have the same name. I’m not sure they’re written the same in Chinese, but it’s interesting.

What I didn’t like about the movie: 

  • shown in white and black. A part of me wishes it would have had more color, but then the artistic side would have been greatly diminished. I just wish I saw their beautiful clothes in all their glory.
  • gloomy. the rain. it rained all the time. i don’t like the mud forming during and after the rain.
  • the plot wasn’t very strong, so the whole thing seemed a bit pointless. The strongest point was the filming and editing techniques.

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5, so I think you should totally try to see this movie if you have the possibility. Remember this is not a kung-fu movie.

I also have to mention I left out some details and scenes, like I already mentioned I did. The committed parts you’ll have to discover on your own, and I really hope that you will. This movie got me pretty hyped.

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