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Non-Review Review: Ying (“Shadow”)

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Shadow is a mess.

Shadow aims for opera, but winds up in soap opera. The film’s plotting is a mess of internal contradictions grasping desperately at pseudo-profundity. The film’s structure is completely chaotic, with what should be the climax of the third act coming about a half-an-hour before the end credits in order to make room for even more plot twists and betrayals and reversals. Shadow simply does not work on a number of fundamental levels.

And yet, in spite of that, there’s an incredible charm to the film. Director Zhang Yimou commits wholeheartedly and unquestioningly to his premise, right down to the heavily desaturated-to-the-point-of-almost-being-black-and-white colour scheme. Shadow never seems to have any hesitation or self-doubt as it commits to an increasingly convoluted plot and a series of increasingly absurd visual flourishes. It is as exhilarating as it is infuriating.

Shadow is a movie in which an invading army cocks their razor umbrellas before riding said umbrellas through the streets of a city under assault. It’s completely off the wall, but also impossible to completely resist.

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