Shadow Magic (SE) /A-,B+
Columbia/1999/115/ANA 1.85

    Richly evocative of turn-of-the-century Peking, Shadow Magic is a wondrous depiction of the first talking picture exhibition in China. The magic of technology is given center stage accompanied by a lovely romantic coda.  
     Raymond Wallace arrives in Peking to earn money by presenting the latest Western innovation, motion pictures. Liu Jing Lun is the prize employee of master photographer Ren. Wallace stumbles on a very special photo shoot as the city's legendary Peking Opera star, Lord Tan, arrives at the photo studio to record his image for posterity. Liu is captivated by the beautiful daughter of Lord Tan. The main players are introduced in this old world setting as new technology butts heads with tradition. 

A wondrously enthusiastic performance. ©Columbia

    Liu is fascinated by the new inventions of the West. When Wallace opens a make-shift movie house, Liu discovers another passion, moving pictures. Liu's determination forges with Wallace's knowledge to bring Shadow Magic to the cynical Chinese. A cultural collision ensues that is sure to ignite fireworks. 
  A wonderful debut for writer/director Ann Hu. There's nary a false step in the storytelling. Gleeful innocence and sly cynicism are exercised with equal insight. Hu has chosen a team of talented players. Lida Zhang's musical score brilliantly captures elements of old and new. Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber paints with light to startling effect. Color images fade to black and white, dusty streets come to life propped up by streaks of light. Director Hu has acknowledged that she and Schreiber butted heads but that when the stunning rushes were previewed she was awed by her photographer's talent. 
    Yu Xia is absolutely fabulous as Liu. Xia invigorates  Liu with boundless energy and enthusiasm. His smile is worth a thousand images Jared Harris is a fine choice as Wallace. He's gruff, raw, with a touch of desperation. The cast of supporting players disappear into the world created by Hu.
     Shadow Magic is a special treat for movie lovers. A glimpse into the past of something we treasure dearly is not to be missed.
     The beautiful photography is handsomely replicated on this DVD special edition. Colors are delicate, the dust misted streets glow with sunlight. Shadow detail is excellent. Details are lovingly transferred in sharp images. Overall consistency is a hallmark of this excellent DVD.  Dolby Digital 2 channel surround is very open capturing the bustling streets and the lovely musical chords with equal aplomb. Removable yellow English subtitles are presented over the image. Unfortunately, there is also a good deal of English spoken in the film and the titles appear then also. It detracts from the charm of those moments. More care could have extracted all the subtlety of Shadow Magic.
    Ann Hu's precise commentary is offered as the heart of this special edition. Hu describes the background of the project and difficulties in getting it off the ground. 



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