Release Date(s)2018 (August 13, 2019)
Studio(s)Perfect Village, LeVision Pictures, Shanghai Tencent (Well Go USA)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C
Set in a fictional era of ancient China, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow is the story of Commander Ziyu (Deng Chao) of the Pei kingdom, who suffered a terrible loss in battle to the warrior Yang Chag (Hu Jun) of the Yang kingdom. Not only was Ziyu injured in this duel, he lost the great city of Jingzhou to Yang as well. Years later, Ziyu visits the warrior and challenges him to a rematch against his king’s wishes. But there’s more to this situation than meets the eye. For Ziyu has a shadow; he’s actually two identical men. One of them has dedicated his entire life to revenge against Yang, while the other is merely a pawn. But as time passes, a question begins to arises: Which man is real and which is the shadow?
Like all of Zhang Yimou’s films, Shadow attempts to illuminate the human heart, and to do it in a purely Chinese way. What passions motivate people, get them to dedicate themselves to a cause? What lies at the heart of a warrior? Shadow also attempts to portray the duality of life, not just that of a nobleman and his shadow, but the Chinese philosophical concept of yin and yang itself. To do this, Yimou employs a desaturated palette and contrasts even the visual style of the film’s combat, one aggressive and masculine, the other more fluid and feminine. Deng Chao actually plays both versions of Ziyu here, but one is robust in his prime, while the other is emaciated and weak—it’s a stunning combination of performance and visual effects to blend the two. This isn’t a typical wuxia; Zhang is almost attempting to reinvent the genre. Camera movement and staging are slower and more deliberate than the director’s usual approach. The film is complex in its plotting and something of a slow burn dramatically. But if you’re patient with it, Shadow is a gorgeous and rewarding film.
Shadow was shot digitally in the Redcode RAW codec (5K) using Red Weapon Helium and Phantom Flex cameras with Zeiss Master Price lenses and was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The high capture resolution results in a stunning image, with incredibly smooth and refined detail and texturing. Save for skin tones, the color palette is desaturated almost to the point of being black and white, which emphasizes the texturing of wood, stone, metal, and cloth even further. Yet skin tones have more nuance that you might expect too. And the HDR10 grade deepens the shadows, brightens the highlights, and makes every shade of gray in between come to life. This is a gorgeous 4K image, so much so that one can’t help wondering how good Yimou’s Hero, Raise the Red Lantern, Curse of the Golden Flower, and House of Flying Daggers might look on this format too (The Great Wall is already available, reviewed here).
Audio is offered in the original Mandarin in Dolby Atmos, with dubbed English 5.1 Dolby Digital as an alternate option. The Atmos mix is fantastic, once again a study in contrasts. There are quiet moments of whispered dialogue where the surround positioning and height channels create a tremendous sense of space. But in combat scenes, there’s an abundance of effortless bluster and movement. The sound of bladed weapons ring and swish in the air, landing with heavy metallic clangs. Others are saturated by an ever-present rainfall that seems to land all around. And in a few scenes, Ziyu and his wife play scorching duets (one is almost a duel) on stringed instruments called zithers, the tones of which are full and jarring, yet hauntingly melodic too. At all times, the low end is firm and robust—almost explosive in the action scenes—while the dialogue is clean and natural sounding. This Atmos mix is magnificent and a perfect match to the visuals. Note that subtitles are available in English, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese.
There are no extras on Well Go USA’s 4K disc itself, but the package includes a Blu-ray version of the film too. This adds the following content in 1080p HD:
- About the Double (2:17)
- The Director (3:17)
- The Unknown Side of Zhang Yimou (3:03)
- Behind the Scenes (2:43)
- Backstage Heroes (4:06)
- Deng Chao vs. Deng Chao (2:49)
- Zheng Kai, the Multi-faced King (2:02)
- International Trailer (2:05)
- US Trailer (1:56)
The extras are fascinating, as they were obviously shot by the production, meant for a Chinese audience, but are presented with English subtitles. It’s not a lot of material, but you get a look behind the scenes at the Chinese production, two of the actors, and some insights on the director himself that are rare for American audiences to have access to. Note that there’s no Digital copy here.
Fans of Zhang Yimou will find much to recommend Shadow. It’s not a film to everyone’s taste, but it’s a great film nonetheless—an almost Shakespearian story of love, revenge, and political intrigue between two rival kingdoms. Thankfully, Well Go USA has done the film real justice on 4K Ultra HD. This is a reference quality title on the format. Recommended, highly so for fans of the director’s work.
- Bill Hunt