Film Review: SHADOW (China 2018) ***

Shadow Poster

Life and intrigue in an ancient Chinese court.


Yimou Zhang


Wei Li (screenplay), Yimou Zhang (screenplay)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou has made beautiful period films like RAISE THE RED LANTERN and JU DO, my two personal favourites.  But often the beauty of the films take over the narrative resulting in pretty empty pieces like his foray into martial art epics.  Martial art epics should be excited with fast and furious executed action segments, not moving in slow motion showing the choreography of the moves.  Films like HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS end up like empty pretty vessels.  Yimou’s SHADOW again is a beautifully shot period pieces set in ancient China, but thankfully has a stronger plot with little martial arts.

The story concerns a king and his commander, the commander’s wife and the king’s sister.  It is a four-handler set in a period epic.  In an empire ruled by thus wild and dangerous young king (Zheng Kai), the court is a hive of politicking and treachery.   The monarch’s brave military commander (Deng Chao) has cultivated a secret weapon to aid his survival: a “shadow,” (and hence the film title) a lookalike who can fool both his enemies and the king himself as the commander prepares for a dangerous final assault against the forces of a rival kingdom.   There is no real villain in the film.  The Yangs of the rival Kingdom could also be the good guys and the Pei Kingdom the bad guys – interchangeable.

One wonders about the soundtrack and score.  If at first to denote tension, the soundtrack works.  Overuse of the same in repetition in this case in the film renders the soundtrack really annoying after a while.

Most of the actors are unrecognizable in North America but are all quite the good lookers, both male and female.  The production sets particularly the Pei Palace and the costumes are also a feast for the eyes.  The young actors are not very good, overacting or looking as if they are trying too hard half the time.  What the film is lacks is an effective dramatic content that connects the audience with the plot.

The film is quite male oriented that might defend the other gender.  The sister mistreated as second class, offered as a concubine.  The commander’s wife has little say in things and has to suppress her romantic emotions.

For a fight film, the action sequences do not make up the majority of the film nor are they particularly exciting.  Do not expect an action packed film from this director.  A few action sequences though not that many, are still executed in slow motion. But the fight segments that include special effects, especially fo the steel umbrellas and their blades are impressive.

Yimou had been the Chinese director to watch when he first came on the scene with his muse Gong Li.  His newer works including SHADOW have never reached the heights of films like JU DOU, RED SORGHUM, RAISE THE RED LANTERN or even the lesser THE STORY OF QIU JU. 

The film has a limited run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and should be seen onto big screen.


Movie Review: THE MERMAID (Hong Kong 2016) ****

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the_mermaid.jpgTHE MERMAID (Hong Kong 2016) ****
Directed by Stephen Chow

Review by Gilbert Seah

Starring: Yun Lin, Chao Deng, Yun-Lin Jhuang

Thanks to Sony Pictures, THE MERMAID gets a distribution release in Canada and the United States. I just previewed the film on the second day of opening on a Saturday evening in a full-house of Cantonese speaking Asians. It was quite the experience.

THE MERMAID is produced, co-written and directed by Stephen Chow whose KUNG FU HUSTLE was widely released. To those unfamiliar with his works, his films are pure silliness. Lots of action, slapstick, fast dialogue with CGI added to this 3D comedic hilarity. The film has already broken records after opening Chinese New Year in Asia. See paragraph below (figures from and courtesy of Sony Publicity) before the review.

“MĚI RÉN YÚ (direct translation: Pretty Human Fish i.e. Mermaid)” opened in China on Chinese Lunar New Year’s Day (February 8) and shattered box office records. On opening day in China, it opened in the #1 spot, grossing a whopping $66 million. In Hong Kong, the film also opened to #1 on opening day with $709,000. To date, the film has grossed over $348 million in China. In Singapore, the film was the highest grossing Sony release for a Chinese film with $838,000, while in Malaysia it was the highest grossing opening day of all time for a Chinese-language film at $528,000. In Malaysia, it was also the highest grossing film opening on New Years and also the highest opening day gross for director Stephen Chow.

THE MERMAID tells the tale of a mermaid (Jelly Lin) who falls for the evil business tycoon (Deng Choa) she’s been sent to seduce and assassinate.

The CGI in THE MERMAID is used for the most ridiculous purposes. The flapping of the mermaid’s tail, the movements of the octopus’ tentacles, the shoals of fish in the sea, the air-borne back-strapped contraption are some examples. But, they do to Chow’s credit generate the most laughs.

Anything can happen in a Stephen Chow film and the man will do anything to get a laugh out of his audience. Take for example the important scene in which an old sage (in the form of a mermaid) tells the legendary tale of how humans and fish used to co-exist. All the mermaids and other fish are listening. Before she ends her story, she falls asleep snoring. Another is the octopus cook acting as if nothing is happening while his tentacles are being cooked up in the open kitchen.

The film contains, as in all comedies, hits and misses. The hit/miss ratio, thankfully is high, with the laughs coming fast and furious. There will be classic segments that might go down in Hong Kong comedy history like the chicken cooking/exercise segment in the Hui Brothers’ THE PRIVATE EYES. One of these is the segment where Deng Chao goes to the police station to report being kidnapped by the mermaid. (See trailer below or part of this segment.)

If you can throw logic and sanity out the window, THE MERMAID will turn out to be a big treat. THE MERMAID is as silly (and hilarious) as can be. The millions of asian moviegoers cannot be wrong.


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