"Medieval Chinese Machinations"
What You Need To Know:
The movie’s director, Zhang Yimou, is one of cinema’s great visual stylists. Zhang usually uses vibrant, striking primary colors as part of his production, but this time the production design and costumes are in black, white and silver. SHADOW tells an engrossing tale of court intrigue and war, but the battles and duels get rather violent, so extreme caution is advised. SHADOW also has a mixed worldview containing an interesting combination of Chinese philosophical and spiritual notions mixing dualism with a primitive form of Chinese monotheism.
Chinese film director Zhang Yimou is one of cinema’s great visual stylists. His new movie, SHADOW, is about a dying military commander who uses a lookalike to help him retake a city run by a rival serving another kingdom that’s made an uneasy alliance with the commander’s own king. Zhang usually uses vibrant, striking primary colors as part of his production and costume design, but this time the production design and costumes are in black, white and silver. SHADOW plays like a Shakespearean tragedy as the commander’s shadow becomes trapped in the machinations between the commander, their own king, the king’s sister, the commander’s rival, and the commander’s wife. Everything leads to a big battle and a deadly duel between the shadow and the commander’s rival, followed by a couple assassination plots. Can the shadow, a poor peasant who only wants to return to his beloved mother, survive?
SHADOW is as visually striking as Zhang Yimou’s other movies. It tells an engrossing tale of secrets, world-changing betrayals, and intense battles for survival. The commander’s shadow is the most sympathetic character. He’s been thrust into a deadly situation and must have his wits about him if he’s to survive. The battles and duels in SHADOW get rather violent, however, so extreme caution is advised. Also, one scene implies that passionate kissing between the commander’s shadow and the commander’s wife leads to an adulterous hookup.
In the story, there are visual representations of the dualistic Chinese symbol of yin and yang, where yin is the negative, passive, dark, or feminine principle while yang is the positive, active, light, or masculine principle. Yang grows because of yin, but yin can’t exist without yang, just as shadow can’t exist without light. The dialogue contains references to light and shadow, and right versus wrong. It also contains references to the Chinese concept of Heaven. In Chinese philosophy and religion, Heaven can be associated with the supreme deity the Chinese call Shangdi, but Heaven also gives kings and emperors their divine mandate to rule. The young, unpredictable king in SHADOW refers to that mandate at least twice in the movie, and the military commander repeats that metaphor when he starts talking about his desire to replace the king. These ideas lead to a mixed worldview for SHADOW. Eventually, the military commander’s shadow must manage to turn defeat into victory when the king, the commander and the commander’s rival vie for power.