Even when Zhang Yimou has a lack of color in his films, they still pop visually. It’s impressive the shades of white, black and grey he can play with, eking the best out of each. Red plays a roll in things too. Punctuating the numerous battle sequences that crop up in the second half.
In China’s Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280) , there’s a been a modicum of peace for years. The past 20 years have seen General Yang, leader of the army that officially overtook the city of Jingzhou, sitting on the throne. The king of the waterlogged Pei kingdom is surprisingly ok with it, given their steady peace accord. Same can’t be said of his loyal commander, Yu (Deng Chao), who was brutally wounded in combat with Yang. Deep within the Pei castle, he plots on an almost Shakespearean level, using a doppelganger (also Chao), he names Jing, to carry out his wishes.
It takes a while for Shadow to get to its wuxia roots. About an hour alone is character set up and positioning of the various chess pieces in play. The only one who knows of Yu and Jing’s deception is Yu’s wife (Sun Li). She grows closer to Jing and a romance blossoms, as Yu is driven mad by his scheming. Yimou strives to keep it engaging thanks to a game cast and strange minor developments. Further making a much of things is also the King’s sister, who is unwittingly promised as a bride to Yang’s son. Everything would threaten to buckle under the weight of all the concurrent threads, but Yimou fashions a way for them to flow naturally.
It also helps that Shadow intersperses philosophy into the proceedings. Often tacking it onto training sequences, which play out on a massive Yin Yang diagram. If there’s one piece that may irk some viewers, it’s a few comments made towards the film’s female characters. Those are largely brushed over thanks to the strength of the performers and some moments in the second half that give their characters agency.
What makes Shadow ultimately compelling is just how insane the action gets in the third act. Yimou is no slouch in this department, having made Hero, House of the Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, in the past. Once the weaponized umbrellas come into play, all bets are off. It’s also here that red makes a striking appearance, contrasting beautifully against the whites and greys. Though it may be a little long, this is a wondrous little film. One that’s sure to grow with repeat viewings. What’s more, it’s a far cry from the grand misstep that was The Great Wall.
The Night Comes For Us
It’s never a question you’d expect to preface one’s feelings of a movie on: “how much violence or bloodshed can you handle in a film?” The reason that can seem odd, is it can mean many things to many people. The Night Comes For Us, the latest action feature from tireless director Timo Tjahjanto (Headshot), gets that designation as the blood flows just as freely as the number of traditional and non-traditional weapons that get used in the film’s dozen or so fight sequences. Even if you’re a seasoned action fan, you may not be prepared for what’s in store.
On a basic level, The Night Comes For Us is the latest example of the “Hitman goes rogue to protect an innocent person” genre. Those of you rolling your eyes right now, take a deep breath & count to ten, as this one’s a rousing success. The kind of instant classic that will get used as a barometer for years to come.
Ito (Joe Taslim) is a high level Triad enforcer. Part of a special group known as the “Six Seas”. When things get extra hairy, these individuals are brought in to use exceedingly excessive force to get the job done. As most of these stories go, one day Ito’s conscience resurfaces, when called upon to dispatch a kid. Then he must survive as long as possible, until either he or the legion of foes sent to dispatch him, perish.
Knowing this subgenre’s getting long in the tooth, he ups the colorful characters and action quotient to almost unsustainable levels. At times The Night Comes For Us resembles a live action video games. Brief dialogue driven sequences exist for minor character development or a slight reprieve between fights. When people show up to a new location, it feels as if there’s a wide shot to give the audience an understanding of that particular landscape. Drink it in while you can, as thinks look drastically different once copious amounts of blood redecorate the walls mere minutes later.
The fights themselves are chaotic things of masterful beauty. A brutal ballet of fists, blood and all kinds of weaponry. Just as you think the film has reached a fever pitch, you’ll look down and realize it’s only halfway over. Tjahjanto is a forced to be reckoned with. It would be easy to say this is his masterpiece, but given his recent output (three movies in three years), he may just top this tomorrow. That’s crazy to think, because this film isn’t just absolutely bonkers, it’s carefully crafted and technically gorgeous. Seeing the Netflix logo before The Night Comes For Us is the only oddity here, really. Most may be turned off by the streaming giants track record when it comes to original features. Don’t be put off by it. To do so is to miss out on possibly the best action film of the decade.
*The Night Comes For Us will be released on Netflix, 10/19.
One Cut Of The Dead
If there’s one genre that’s had something of a bad go of it the last couple years, it’s the zombie genre. So done to death (ha, puns) are those films, that virtually every one of them has to have a gimmick, almost out of necessity. Sometimes though, a feature comes along, so earnestly made, that it demands attention. Currently that spot belongs to Japan’s One Cut Of The Dead. The trouble is, discussing it in depth, runs the risk of ruining what makes this flick just so special.
Reading the synopsis to One Cut, makes it sound like half the films clogging up virtual rental shelves. A low budget film crew attempts to make a zombie film in an abandoned WWII factory. The director, Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is at his wits end. His lead actress (Yuzuki Akiyama) just can’t emote. After take 43 of the climactic scene fails, the director decides to push things to the extreme. Then, as luck should have it (at least from the filmmaking side), real zombies show up to make a muck of things. The first thirty minutes seem almost like a lark. While there’s a few laughs scattered, it comes off as more than a little tedious. Right as you’re ready to give up, the real meat gets exposed.
It’s really difficult to hold back on saying much more. Extremely difficult. Yet this is exactly the kind of film that must be experienced as blind as possible. It practically demands it. While other sites do ruin the surprise, keep this in mind: in Japan the film became a hit almost entirely by word of mouth. Even the trailer that’s out there makes sure to avoid diving into what makes this so entertainingly joyous. Just trust that when this drops in select theaters and VOD you’ll want to grab as many friends as possible and have a grand evening. Even the most cynical will be left with a smile on their face.