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