Epic only in its headache-inducing abilities, Zhang Yimou’s ambitious 3rd Century centred Shadow says little of the historical source material upon which it is based. But a morsel of enjoyment comes from laughing at the sheer absurdity of what the creators thought would look cool.
The first act is long and rambling. After an hour of internally screaming for something to actually happen, my prayers were answered, and I instantly regretted it. The second act is dense with dumb action that would feel more at home in an old episode of Power Rangers. And by the third act there’s nothing left to care about; either because most of the characters have already been anticlimactically hacked apart, or the film has evaporated any ounce of interest left in the remaining stakes.
It’s hard to choose the most ridiculous images in the unforgivable running time. Perhaps it was the umbrellas made of launchable daggers. Or possibly the 30-foot high platform sailing downriver with the support of just two small boats, the likes of which, for example, Lady Gaga might arrive on at the Oscars. Or it could be the human-sized platinum Beyblades cascading in formation through city streets. Laughing at Shadow very nearly allows it to cross the threshold of being so bad, it’s good.
Action scenes were awkwardly choreographed and featured ubiquitously bloody throat-slashing. Frustrating slow-motion was coupled with incomprehensible sound effects such that soldiers would hiss uncontrollably whilst writhing on the floor in the final moments of their life. Clearly the creators of this film had a lot of fun playing around with various visual effects and props to create the wannabe-epic battle scene, but in the process, they sacrificed anyone taking the action remotely seriously. I’d rather they had sacrificed me.
Shadow feels like a weak film adaptation of a lengthy and detailed tome. Too bad the director can’t blame difficulties in adapting for the screen, because no such book exists. The final product is a heavy and uninviting experience, steeped in a greyscale aesthetic that just makes many scenes look two-dimensional. It’s like staring at the pages slowly exiting a printer that is running out of colour ink. Unfortunately, all four showings at the London Film Festival for Shadow are sold out. Sucks to be you.