It was buried so inconspicuously in the list of forthcoming home entertainment releases, with a pretty inconspicuous title to boot, that I nearly overlooked it. But there it is: after nearly a year of eager anticipation from arthouse auteurists and wuxia genre geeks alike, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow (Universal, 15) is skipping UK cinemas and heading straight into your living rooms from Monday.
Notable films going directly to small-screen platforms is a preoccupation of this column, though they’re often small-scale indies that don’t suffer too much from the downsizing. (The breath-on-your-neck intimacy of last week’s featured film Her Smell, for example, plays well in private.) Shadow is different: an out-and-out Chinese blockbuster, it’s a panoramic period spectacle crying out for the sound and fury of a cinema. Fifteen years ago, Zhang’s period martial arts dazzler House of Flying Daggers made nearly £6m in British cinemas; the idea of a similar project from the director being demoted in this fashion would have been unthinkable.
Times - Tastes - Zhang - Reputation - Crossover
Times and tastes change, I suppose; Zhang’s reputation, meanwhile, has been dented by such recent crossover clangers as the culturally dubious Matt Damon adventure The Great Wall. But Shadow is a reassuring return to form for the 69-year-old veteran, as well as an entirely sumptuous experience on its own terms: just about every frame invites a separate gasp. An old-school action fantasy rooted in Chinese legend from the Three Kingdoms era (AD220-280), the kings-and-soldiers-and-subterfuge saga is tangled and absorbing, and also somewhat beside the point.
For visually, Shadow is a kind of ravishing anomaly: a full-colour epic that has nonetheless been designed and styled entirely with a monochrome palette, working in more literal shades of grey than you ever thought possible, as if every set has somehow intricately been painted in ink and wash. It’s as purely beautiful as anything Zhang...
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