From the trailer, Shadow appears to be an exciting hyper-stylized martial arts film. Is this film really a fresh vision or a shade of director Yimou Zhang’s previous work?
The vast majority of the film is devoid of martial arts action and is devoted to political intrigue. This wouldn’t be a problem if the non-action segments built character. However, the main cast is so devoted to honor that they come across as robotic and lack any motivation that I could invest in. While there’s plenty of political jargon, there doesn’t seem to be a political perspective. The opposing factions are fighting over territory but there’s no greater significance.
The art direction makes the most out of its minimalistic Yin-Yang esthetic. Every scene uses high-contrast between light and shadow so that the world looks painted in ink.
The highlight of the film is the final battle with the bladed umbrellas. The warriors also use wrist-mounted crossbows and sneak across enemy lines with wooden scuba-gear. The improbability of these contraptions never bothered me and I easily wanted more.
While Shadow does have a fantastic set-piece in the third act, most of the film is boring. This is a case where the trailer showed all the most interesting scenes. There was really only one fight scene and the rest was just talking and training. I would say that Shadow might be worth renting just to fast forward to the final fight. But the slow-moving plot and robotic characters made for a dull cinematic experience.