SHADOW MAGIC is a magical film which has nothing to do with the occult arts; rather, it is the fictionalized true story of the first motion picture introduced in Peking, China, in 1902. Liu Jinglun is the chief photographer at the Feng Tai Photo Shop. Captivated by an Englishman’s motion picture camera and projector, Liu helps the Englishman seek fame and fortune using the new art medium. Liu’s fascination endangers his relationship with the daughter of an opera star who feels his career threatened by the “Shadow Magic” box.
SHADOW MAGIC is delightful in every respect. The characters are winsome and likable. The morals are clear and defined. Loyalty, honesty and integrity are the subsidiary messages of the movie, but the primary message is not to be afraid of the future and not to abandon the past. The joy of watching the moving images becomes the joy of capturing on film what Peking looked like at the turn of the century, knowing that it would all pass away. Filmmaker Ann Hu, who was persecuted by the Chinese Cultural Revolution as a young girl and fled to America, has done a masterful job
(BB, Ro, L, V, A, M) Moral worldview with a positive perspective on progress, a slight reference to following your heart & no mention of pagan Chinese religious beliefs; 1 “bas***d”; two scenes where a man is thrown out of a building, but doesn’t seem to be hurt, one scene where two friends scuffle, throwing punches that seem insignificant & rolling on the ground, & one scene where a projector burns up & a man hurts his leg; no sex or sexual immorality; no nudity; drinking; and, lying which is rebuked.
SHADOW MAGIC is a magical film which has nothing to do with the occult arts; rather, it is the fictionalized true story of the first motion picture (“shadow magic”) introduced in Peking, China, in 1902.
Liu is the chief photographer at the Feng Tai Photo Shop. He is captivated by new inventions from the West, such as a crank Victrola. His boss, Master Ren, would rather that Liu focus on his work, especially when he needs to photograph important people, such as the opera star, Lord Tan. Master Ren also feels Western novelties have no place in traditional Chinese society. As Lord Tan poses for the camera, Liu becomes attracted to Lord Tan’s beautiful daughter, Ling.
At the same time, an Englishman named Raymond Wallace, played by Jared Harris, the son of Richard Harris, comes to Peking with his motion picture projector to make his fame and fortune. Raymond’s wife abandoned him because of his financial ineptitude and pie-in-the-sky dreams. Like a bull in a china shop, he charges into the middle of Lord Tan’s photography session and tries to explain that he has a device that makes pictures move. He is thrown out, but Liu wants to find out more.
Soon, in his spare time, Liu becomes Raymond’s partner, showing little film strips to the people of Peking. Regrettably, this takes away Lord Tan’s audience, which abandons the opera for this novelty. To complicate matters, Ling and Liu clearly are attracted to each other, but Liu is jeopardizing Lord Tan’s business.
The conflict between father and prospective son-in-law comes to a climax at the birthday celebration of the Empress Dowager. The projector bursts into flames. Liu and Raymond are threatened with execution. A miracle of sorts takes place, and soon thereafter Liu decides to stake all he has on one last effort to convince Peking of the beauty of the “Shadow Magic” box.
SHADOW MAGIC is delightful in every respect. The characters are winsome and likable. The morals are clear and defined. Loyalty, honesty and integrity are subsidiary moral messages of the movie, but the primary message is not to be afraid of the future and not to abandon the past. The joy of watching the moving images becomes the joy of capturing on film what Peking looked like at the turn of the century, knowing that it would all pass away.
Filmmaker Ann Hu has done a masterful job. Clearly she loves her native country, in spite of the fact that she suffered at the hands of the Red Guard and her family fled to America. She believes her suffering made her appreciate her studies at NYU and the freedom of America even more.
SHADOW MAGIC is crafted with a very deft and subtle hand. It never preaches, yet it delights and informs. It opens up a world of possibility and reveals a country that will never exist again.
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