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Review: Shadow

Caught a late-night screening of Shadow at IFC Center. This wuxia thriller is set during China’s Three Kingdoms period; thus, its plot revolves around courtly intrigue, fragile alliances, doppelgängers, double-crosses, forbidden love, and conspiracies-within-conspiracies. In many ways, however, the narrative is secondary to the style. Director Zhang Yimou’s career has always been defined by his bold aesthetic choices. In Hero, for example, he bathed the screen in vibrant shades of red, blue, and green; here, he veers towards the opposite extreme, crafting a world in which absolutely everything—the costumes, the sets, the silhouettes of mountains against the overcast sky—is either black, white, or some blend of the two. It’s a beautifully effective visual theme, evoking yin and yang, ink on paper, and the dark ambitions of the central characters. Of course, the morality isn’t nearly as simplistic as the motif would imply, and as the story reaches its insidiously understated conclusion, all sides of the conflict are equalized in the mud and blood. Unfortunately, I doubt that Shadow has the broad appeal necessary to escape the limited confines of the specialty box office, but it will definitely reward any cinephiles adventurous enough to seek it out.

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