Let’s play with umbrellas.
Shadow is a 2019 Chinese film with some parallels to actual history in the region. The film boasts major critical success and is often phrased as something truly magnificent. While it is pretty to look at, the narrative leaves a lot to be desired.
Shot in a deep grey, the film’s setting, costumes, and people almost look like drawing as they interact in a truly beautiful world. I can’t speak highly enough of the style of this one. It is truly a sight to behold and many of the sets are breathtaking. Any praise the film has earned for its style is more than deserved.
The story is a bit of a mess. We have a divided kingdom with two factions at what appears to be a cold war. Whether the Pei kingdom should work to retake the kingdom is debated hotly, and the military seems to want to, but the king would rather work for peace. His commander, Ziyu wants to retake the city and regain his honor due to losing a duel the year before. However, this Ziyu is not the real Ziyu, but a shadow as the real Ziyu (who is wounded gravely) is planning things behind the scenes.
The initial set-up is fine, but the story finds it necessary to keep adding more and more twists to keep us guessing, but it backfires: at a certain point none of it seems to matter. The motivations behind each of the characters remain elusive for many of them, and it is hard to see why things are moving in the directions that they do.
The film is both confusing and predictable. As the twists become more frequent so does the audience’s ability to guess what they will be. Unfortunately, this means that nothing is too surprising as things start getting chaotic. The final act, where things should be at the height of intensity and tragedy becomes more of a slog to see how certain people are going to die.
What frustrates me is that the story could have been fun. Instead, we end up with everything so drab that the emotions match the greyed-out landscape. Sure, this could be making a statement, but it doesn’t add up to mean much.
Shadow is perhaps the most gorgeous film I have seen that I wanted to end long before it did. The quality of the writing does not match the interesting designs. I see why folks like it, but for me this is a sloppy narrative in a nice wrapping.
Fiends for fantastic Chinese history may find something to like here, but for folks looking for a story with more gravitas I’d avoid this one.