By the director of Hero and The House Of Flying Daggers

The great director Zhang Yimou has created a martial-arts movie landmark, as strong in its performances as it is spectacularly novel in its violence.

Poster for the Zhang Yimou period drama ShadowFrom the opening shots, the film announces itself as something special. Zhang, the cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding and the production designer Ma Kwong Wing have drained it of color. The characters have pale flesh tones, yes, but their surroundings are black and white and countless gradations of gray.

Set during a peaceful era in the ‘Three Kingdoms’ era of Chinese history, Shadow centres on a military commander, suffering from a lingering disease, who has made a slave of his peasant double and trained him to agitate against their cruel king. The commander and his ‘shadow’, both played by Deng Chao, are locked in morbid -codependency, and both are passionately in love with the same woman. The deceptions are unending.

The convolutions of court intrigue are head-spinning enough. Once the action scenes begin, though, they bring with them a new level of exhilaration. Just when you believe the movie can’t get any crazier, it does, interrupting the gray world with shocks of dark red.

– Glenn Kenny, The New York Times


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