Today's Weather

Partly Cloudy

Monday, April 16, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 133



'Shadow Magic' recounts China's first experience with motion pictures

Shadow Magic

*** 1/2 (out of five stars)
Starring Jared Harris, Xia Yu

Sony Pictures Classics

By Geronimo Rodriguez
Daily Cougar Staff

What was the first film you ever saw? How did you react when you realized that pictures were moving right before your eyes? Or better yet, when was the first time you saw yourself played back on television just after someone told you to look into the video camera?

Shadow Magic tells a delightful story about the arrival of filmmaking and what the Eastern world thought when the "moving pictures" became a new way to entertain. As some people enjoyed the advent of film, others were a bit skeptical, fearing the new idea would erase traditional forms of entertainment.

Eastern cultures' resistance to welcome Western ideas proves to be the underlying meaning in this film's story.

Based on a true story about a young man, Liu Jinglun (In The Heat Of The Sun's Xia Yu), in Peking, China in 1902, the film follows this gifted photographer and his fascination with Western novelties.

Fu Xiang Ping/Sony Pictures Classics

Liu Jinglun (Xia Yu) stars as a young pioneer in Shadow Magic, the story the advent of motion pictures in the Far East. Xing Yufei co-stars.

Liu's desires lead him to go against the ideals of traditional China. The young man begins to dream thoughts too big for his own world, and finds comfort in knowing that he can see his traditions changing. The only problem is that Liu wants to change with the times, as well.

All the problems begin when Liu dismisses loyalty towards his father and employer and gives his heart to a young woman whose family is wealthier than his. The young man questions his fate in the sense of tradition and yearns to break free from planned marriages and his family's poor economic status.

But Shadow Magic's main purpose is to express China's fear of its tradition fading due to Western influence. The story focuses on how Liu plans to get the people of Peking to warm up to "moving pictures" and what he sees in them. The ability to capture a moment and to relive it as many times as possible brings uncontrollable joy to the young man's heart. As the persistent character gets back up after bumping into brick walls, his dream to direct a full-length Chinese film becomes closer to a reality.

Fu Xiang Ping/Sony Pictures Classics

Raymond Wallace (Jared Harris) introduces young filmmaker Liu Jinglun (Xia Yu) to the world of motion pictures in Shadow Magic.

Director Ann Hu proves she is a good storyteller with her first feature film. Hu provides Shadow Magic with comedy and simplicity. She does not overwhelm with fast-paced camera shots or different angles. Hu simply tells a story about a person's passion for wanting to capture everything the eye can see. This concept is very much appreciated and stressed by the talented filmmaker.

Unfortunately, Hu never truly captures the relationship between Liu and his family, or his love interest. The film misses with these undeveloped aspects of the story, but the other issues would have been enough for this movie. The attempt to implement these subplots makes one consider what could have been.

If you enjoy filmmaking and movies, this film will be worth your while. The images are thoughtful and entertaining. It makes you want to remember when you first saw your actions reflected right back at you.

The subtitled film also stars Liu Peiqi (The Story of Qui Ju), Lu Liping (Old Well), Li Yusheng (Knife of White Monkey) and Jared Harris (B Monkey), who plays Raymond Wallace, the foreigner who introduces Liu to filmmaking.

Send comments to
Advertise in The Daily Cougar

To contact the Shobiz Section Editor, click the e-mail link at the end of this article.

To contact other members of 
The Daily Cougar Online staff, 





Student Publications
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204-4071

©2005, Student Publications. All rights reserved.
Permissions/Web Use Policy


Last update:

Visit The Daily Cougar