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film review

Shadow recalls Zhang Yimou's best and most exhilarating work.Courtesy of TIFF

  • Shadow
  • Directed by: Zhang Yimou
  • Written by: Zhang Yimou and Li Wei
  • Starring: Deng Chao, Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong
  • Classification: 14A; 116 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

After the global disappointment of 2016′s The Great Wall – the epic that was supposed to unite China and the United States in box-office harmony – star Matt Damon retreated to familiar territory: headlining projects for friends (George Clooney’s Suburbicon) and making unexpected cameos (Thor: Ragnarok, Deadpool 2).

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The Great Wall director Zhang Yimou also went back to recognizable ground, although the result is far more impressive: Shadow, the Chinese filmmaker’s latest, recalls his best and most exhilarating work, combining the nuanced emotional beats of his breakthrough 1991 drama Raise the Red Lantern with the visual inventiveness of his early-aughts martial-arts epics House of Flying Daggers and Hero.

Just as with the narrative meat of those latter films, Shadow’s plot is messy and not truly worth untangling – just know that it takes place sometime in the third century, and focuses on the court of the Pei Kingdom, which is filthy with deception.

Mostly, the drama between the power-hungry king (Zheng Kai) and a noble general (Deng Chao) is an excuse for Yimou to unleash some truly inspired action set-pieces, including one all-timer that involves a rain-slicked street, an army of archers and umbrellas made of steel blades. If The Great Wall felt like Yimou was turning his greatest hits into something dispassionately bland, then Shadow takes the familiar and makes it feel startlingly new.

Shadow opens May 10 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto.