Shadows – the Oriental colors at the Venice Film Festival

In 6th Sep, Zhang Yimou’s latest epic Shadow held its world premiere out of competition in Venice, where the Chinese director was honored with the prestigious Glory to the Filmmaker Award. Following the loss of his last film, the Great Wall, it was a three-year battle of dignity for Mr. Zhang. The Great Wall is the first Chinese popcorn movie to take over the world’s commercial cinemas in a grueling collaboration with the Hollywood industry, but local audiences in China are clearly unappreciative of such a “hybrid” form of cultural output, full of bad reviews. Shadow is a return of Zhang Yimou’s work, honed by such fame and notoriety. Talking about the “return”, the first is the return from the Hollywood team to the Chinese class; the second is a return to the early century hero style ancient martial arts masters. From “hero” to Shadow, these 16 years, the change and changeless of Zhang Yimou, also seem to be about to deliver a stage answer here.


Yimou tells the story of a powerful king who has been displaced from his homeland and whose people long to win it back. The king’s simple yet cunning military commander has trained a “shadow,” a body double, who might be his only key to winning back the kingdom. As for the story of stand-ins, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha has become a classic. Therefore, how does Shadow set Jingzhou, the stand-in who is separated from the patriarchal relations, a nameless man who has no family power and no clan protection, and his ending, seems to be the biggest attraction of the film. Based on this, the story of Shadow no longer focuses on the fate of the tragic family like Kagemusha, the story that the “shadow” can only have loyalty to power, and the individual cannot escape the tragedy of destiny. Zhang Yimou, on the other hand, wants to awaken Jingzhou’s personal consciousness as a person during the long waiting and hibernation, as well as the entanglement and awakening of this little guy in the background of great historical disputes. Yimou declared: “A shadow must seamlessly meld with reality, so that true and false can’t be distinguished. I liked the idea of these political substitutes – the body doubles whose stories have never been told before.”

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In addition to the subject matter, the picture design of Shadow is also extremely Oriental. The film was inspired by traditional Chinese ink paintings. The whole film abandons the lively music that modern commercial film loves but tries to give priority to the actor’s original sound, supplemented by classical Chinese Musical Instruments to harmonize, forming a kind of matching auditory enjoyment. It has an acoustic sense of emptiness: the rhythm of dripping stone, the crackling of new rain in bamboo forests, the texture of stone houses, the rustle of clothes as characters move around. All of these can be heard in the film. Moreover, in the visual aspect, with the hazy beauty created by the screen, the whole story frame is in the gray scale of the shadow, forming a clear and empty, but very depressed closed space. The main body of the film follows the route of advanced grey in ink painting. In order to complete the vision of the sense of ink painting, “shadow” has specially customized a large number of seasick cloth, built exterior scenes, and specially set the weather of the film, mainly in the form of rain. Most of the actual scenes in the film are shot on real rainy days. Demetrios Matheou from Screen Daily wrote after the screening: “There’s a particular adjustment in Zhang Yimou’s latest foray into martial arts action, namely the decision to base his visual style on the ink brush technique of Chinese painting. A director known for the sumptuous coloring of his epics now works in a virtually consistent monochrome palette. The result is striking and, unsurprisingly, just as beautiful.”

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Runjia Liu 28664744


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