Zhang Yimou’s new film ‘Shadow’ to hit mainland theaters on Sunday

By Luo Yunzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/28 18:18:40

A poster for Shadow Photo: Courtesy of MEI Media

Five years after work first began on the project, famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou's new work, Shadow, will finally grace the silver screen in the Chinese mainland on Sunday.

On Thursday night, Zhang and the cast of the film attended the red carpet premiere of the film in Beijing.

"The film is about human nature," Zhang said at the ceremony.

"It depicts struggle and survival."

From painting to film

"I wanted to make a film with this theme a long time ago," Zhang said excitedly.

"These 'shadows' are a special group of people who I had a strong interest to know more about."

The "shadows" Zhang was talking about refer to a group of people in China who were trained to be a body double for another person.

Inspired by the novel Three Kingdoms written by Chinese scriptwriter Zhu Sujin, the story follows a military commander who is trying to recover his kingdom from enemy hands and his shadow's struggle for the freedom to live his own life.

While the book takes actual history as its background, according to Zhang the story of the film is completely made up and presented in the style of traditional Chinese ink wash paintings, which tend to focus more on presenting viewers with a subjective feel for the subject than depicting it realistically.  

"This was a new attempt for me and so was very difficult," Zhang noted. 

Zhang explained that the beauty of this black and white painting style is its power to depict various scenes in different shades of gray, which when applied to the visual medium of film "represents the complexity of human nature; that there is a lot more besides just good and bad."

The film, screened out-of-competition at this year's Venice and Toronto film festivals, has received a warm welcome abroad.

"Every supremely controlled stylistic element of Zhang Yimou's breathtakingly beautiful Shadow is an echo of another, a motif repeated, a pattern recurring in a fractionally different way each time," said critic Jessica Kiang in her review of the film for Variety.

"A director known for the sumptuous color of his epics now works in a near consistently monochrome palette. The result is striking and, unsurprisingly, just as beautiful," wrote Screen Daily's Demetrios Matheou in his review.

Zhang explained that the appreciation from overseas critics made him feel that the effort put into the film has paid off.

"I gain confidence hearing about the good reputation Shadow enjoys overseas. This is praise for Chinese art," he noted.

Even though it most likely would have made things easier when it came to depicting the feel of black and white paintings, Zhang refused to turn to digital effects.

"I wanted to make real scenes, which required that costume, makeup, setting and buildings work with each other. Accomplishing this was definitely tough work," said Zhang.

A documentary shown at the premiere after the film gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Shadow. The documentary, Zhang Yimou and His Shadow will also make its way to theaters in the mainland on October 5."

After the premiere reviews of the film began appearing on Chinese media review site Douban. So far, the reception has been mixed. 

"For me the Chinese painting style is quite unique and brilliant. The cast also gave a great performance, but the storyline is a bit too simple. The twist is good though," netizen Lydia_Yoo commented on the platform on Thursday night.

"The story is too plain to be wonderful, I was expecting to see the deepest side of human nature expressed in the film, but it failed," another review, Yuxiao, commented on the site.

"It needs improvement."

Newspaper headline: Different shades of humanity

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