Shadow

Shadow ★★★★

Zhang Yimou directs a story with a commander and his secret double determined to reclaim a city for their king - peak late Yimou (this is up with things like Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower), and while the opening is a little heavy going with all the Chinese politics (though a gorgeous black-and-grey design scheme keeps the attention) the final battle when it comes is strange, beautiful and satisfying.

Longer version on release: Zhang Yimou has been having a rough couple of years. Not necessarily financially (he’s still producing big scale Chinese epics with a strong design sense, and he got to do the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics) but certainly script-wise “The Great Wall”, for example, suffered from over-enthusiastic catering to the Western market (no, it wasn’t a “white saviour” narrative, but it was a “white people shoehorned into a central role when they’re essentially irrelevant” movie, or more specifically a “why is this guy the protagonist when this woman is a whole heap more interesting” movie), and he hasn’t really had a breakout hit since “Curse of the Golden Flower” over a decade ago.

Due to the vagaries of distribution, this may not break the pattern (it’s only showing twice a day at Hoyts Belconnen at the moment) but it certainly deserves a bit more attention than it might be getting. The setup is familiar – two rival kings fight over a city, and the injured warlord of the city currently-out-of-power finds an impersonator to cover for him and fight his battle for him. And the setup takes a while – there’s a lot of training and backroom politicking to get through for the first 50 minutes or so, and while Yimou’s design sense still shines (in this case, using settings and costumes largely on a black-white-grey palette), there’s a deliberate pacing that can feel a little sluggish. But it all pays off in a slightly bonkers final third when battle breaks out in a frenzy of extraordinary moments that simply have to be seen to be believed. Recommended for anybody who’s been missing the grand Chinese epic battle film.