Filmmakers often define their movies by making distinctive visual choices. Whether it’s Victor Fleming signaling The Wizard of Oz’s shift from Kansas to Oz by introducing bold Technicolor, or Zack Snyder reinventing the ancient world on a digital soundstage with 300, some films stand out because they introduce cinematic worlds that don’t look like anything that’s come before.
Add to that list Zhang Yimou’s Shadow, a historical fantasy-drama that reimagines the palace intrigue of China’s Three Kingdoms era as an almost entirely black-and-white world, where the swirl of the two colors reflects the moral grayness of the people who inhabit it. Zhang creates the look not by shooting in black and white, but by using sets and costumes drained of virtually all color. When other shades come into play, like skin tones and the desaturated greens of the nearby forest, their significance leaps off the screen. And as the violence mounts in the back half of the film, blood introduces yet another important color. What’s black and white and (eventually) red all over? This movie.
Deng Chao stars in a dual role as both the high-ranking military strategist Commander Ziyu (inspired, like the film’s other characters, by actual historic figures) and a doppelgänger named Jing, who’s trained since his poverty-born childhood to stand in for Ziyu. As the film opens, Jing’s services have never been more needed. Secretly ailing, Ziyu now works his political machinations from a hidden chamber, manipulating his ruler, King Peiliang (Zheng Kai), who appears to be committed to a humiliating alliance that leaves the city of Jingzhou under the control of a rival. (Jing takes his name from Jingzhou; Ziyu’s plans have been in the works for a long time.)
How committed is the King? Peiliang even seems okay with sending his sister Qingping (Guan Xiaotong) into service as a concubine for his rival’s son, just to maintain the status quo. But Ziyu is no less determined, even watching silently as his wife Xiao Ai (Sun Li) becomes drawn to his lookalike. He’s more concerned with spoiling his plans than preserving his marriage. [Read More]
Published @ May 6, 2019