SHADOW: A Stunning Wuxia Masterpiece, Visually-Ravishing Film

Shadow is a critically-acclaimed wuxia film directed by the legendary Chinese filmmaker, Zhang Yimou, dubbed as one of Asia s greatest filmmakers.

Screened in Venice International Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival in 2018. This film was released in world theaters in 2019.

Deng Chao takes a dual role in Shadow

This has been praised by film critics as one of the gorgeously-made Asian films and one of the best martial arts films ever shown in cinema, with its breathtaking fight scenes of razor umbrellas, stunningly choreographed sword duels, slicing through paddles of blood and rain, and applying bi-chromatic palettes as visual style.

The story is inspired by the Yang and Ying elements in Chinese culture and its visual technique of gray scale is sort of a tribute to Chinese ink-brushing painting.

Shadow is an intricate tale of palace and romantic intrigues, an epic adventure of martial arts heroes and doppelgangers.

The director

Zhang Yimou is an award-winning Chinese film producer, writer, actor, cinematographer and film director.  

Award-winning director, Zhang Yimou

He has three movies nominated for Best Foreign Film in the Oscar awards: Ju Duo in 1990, Raise the Red Lantern in 1991 and Hero in 2003, and reaped numerous awards at home and international.

In 1993, he was a member of the jury of Berlin International Film Festival, and in 2008, he directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, which received international acclaim.

He is known for having the best and stunning choreographed fight scenes in wuxia films in heart-pounding movies like Hero, Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers. 

His highest budgeted film to date is the monster 2016 film starring Matt Damon, The Great Wall.

He earned a degree in Cinematography at the prestigious, Beijing Film Academy, Asia's largest film school and one of the world's best acting and film schools.

He started his career as a film cinematographer and actor before transitioning to film directing through the 1987 critically-acclaimed movie, Red Sorghum.

Plot Summary

The story is set in the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese imperial history where kings and nobles are often embroiled in palace intrigues and political struggle.

Due to endless wars and internal power tension, kings and nobles face the constant threat of assassination. To survive, they secretly employed surrogates known as "shadows".

Hu Jun as General Yang, the nemesis of Ziyu and his shadow

Shadows served their masters bravely by risking their lives and embracing death. Absent from the annals of history, they lived in obscurity and vanished without a trace.

A man called Jing (named after the fallen city of Jingzhou), has been hidden in a mountain cave and trained to become a decoy military commander  for Ziyu to win battles for the kingdom.

Jing's creation as a shadow begins when Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao) lost a duel to Yang Cang or General Yang (Hu Jun), and the Kingdom of Pei he served lost its important city, Jingzhou, to the Kingdom of Yang. 

The Kingdom of Pei is in a complicated political situation embroiled with tension as foreign forces are occupying the city of Jingzhou. 

The kingdom itself has frosty relations with General Yang and his son, Yang Ping (Leo Wu), who control the stronghold. And this tension could tip over into war. 

Hoping to regain influence, the irresolute King of Pei, establishes a peace treaty with General Yang by offering his sister, Princess Qingping (Guan Xiaotong), to marry Yang Ping. 

Leo Wu (Wu Lei) as Yang Ping, son of General Yang

However, Yang Ping has an insulting offer to make Qingping his concubine instead of a wife, which angers the feisty princess. She eventually decides to go to war to fight against Yang Ping in the battle field.

Ziyu and his shadow, Jing, are locked in morbid co-dependency, and both are passionately in love with the same woman, Xiao Ai (Sun Li, the wife of Deng Chao in real life), known as Madam.

Guan Xiaotong as Princess Qingping

The shadow, Jing, using a razor umbrella of the Pei kingdom, still unsuccessful to defeat General Yang, much to Ziyu's increasing anger.

Xiao Ai then advises Jing to fight in a more feminine style and embrace the umbrella's representation of Yin (this concept in Chinese philosophy is associated with darkness, water and femininity).

Ziyu instructs Tian and a hundred convicts to train  in the umbrella technique in preparation for the war against General Yang and his son, Yang Ping, to recapture the city of Jingzhou. 


Set during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese imperial history, Shadow is a riveting historical film that combines palace intrigues with a top-notch action choreography and spectacular fight scenes.

Famous for using rich colors in his film, in Shadow however, Zhang Yimou ventured into a bold move to use ink brush technique and monochrome palette, giving the film its gray visual style. The result, however, was praised by critics as striking and beautiful. 

Shadow is Zhang's best wuxia film in the current time, with techniques in filmmaking praised by critics as spectacularly wonderful and jaw-dropping.

It's a feast in the eyes for action films aficionados. With all the elements of martial arts heroes adventures and political struggle in the kingdom.

With Ziyu preparing his shadow as a decoy for a duel rematch with General Yang and a secret mission to retake the city of Jingzhou, the stage is set for a heart-stopping double crosses action and romance tension. 

Though shown in nearly gray scale visual, the story of deceits, palace struggles and fight sequences make Shadow one of the world's most mesmerizing action films.

The ink brush technique used as a visual style in this film and its nearly charcoal palette, has been praised as awesome, which only few film directors ever achieved into perfection.

And according to a film review in Venice Film Festival:  En route, comes the spectacle of it all. There are few contemporary directors who create milieu and shoot action scenes with such intoxicating bravura as Zhang Yimou, the two-time winner of the Golden Lion for Best Director.

Director Zhang Yimou, known for his creative combat scenes, applies technique that's both intimate and cold-blooded. And uses a lot of Yang and Ying elements. 

He uses a feminine symbol to combat the domineering masculinity element and deflect the enemy's blow.  

Xiao Ai, known as Madam, understands that the only way to defeat the enemy is the use of “the feminine touch” element of water and rain, and a weaponized umbrella.

The scene where Jing and Madam trained on the razor umbrella, twirling and twisting in the air, displays Zhang Yimou's mastery in choreography.

One visual highlight, the fight scene in the rain with loose-plated steel umbrellas cascading down the street like a storm river, is very impressive.

It is visually ravishing, both the bi-chromatic palette and costume design, which appeared like hand-painted style of Chinese ink drawings.

Unlike other films, which uses musical scoring, Shadow uses minimal score and relies on the hum of the umbrella blades in the action sequences to depict a jaw-dropping fight scene, a technique praised by critics as the best.

However, unlike in most films of Zhang where he creates legendary female characters as strong leads, in this film, women do not seem to control their destiny, like the feisty Princess Qingping who chose to sacrifice her life to recapture the city of Jingzhou.

Overall, Shadow is a stunning masterpiece, one of the best wuxia films, packed with thrilling martial arts heroes' adventures, heart-stopping fight scenes that viewers should not miss.

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