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Shadow Magic

Shadow Magic is a movie for people who love movies. A sweet, charming story based on the real-life story of the advent of moving pictures in China at the turn of the century, it's the perfect escape into another place and time. Xia Yu stars as Liu, an irrepressible young photographer in 1902 Peking who's fascinated with Western inventions and gadgets like the phonograph. When he meets Englishman Raymond Wallace (indie actor Jared Harris, son of the legendary Richard Harris) and sees the wonders Wallace has brought with him — "living pictures that move" — he's utterly captivated. One of the film's brightest moments comes when Liu, experimenting on his own, finds out how film works — he's positively giddy with the joy of discovery, and his delight is hard to resist. With Liu's help, Wallace's "Shadow Magic" show becomes the toast of the city, playing to packed audiences every night. The only ones who disapprove are staunch traditionalists like Chinese opera sensation Lord Tan (Li Yusheng) and Master Ren (Liu Peiqi), Liu's boss at the photography studio. Complicating matters is the fact that Liu develops a serious crush on Lord Tan's beautiful daughter, Ling (Xing Yufei), when he's supposed to be betrothed to the large, rich Widow Jiang (Fang Qingzhuo). Weaving the romance into the story of Liu's fascination with the possibility of being able to forever capture real life and honest moments of love, pride, and hope, Shadow Magic is an engaging, visually beautiful film (the scene in which Liu and Wallace film from the Great Wall is stunning). By contrasting the ancient art of the opera with the modern spectacle of cinema, director Ann Hu adeptly details a time in China's history when traditional culture gave up ground to Western modernization. Shot entirely in China, and the first movie to be co-produced by Chinese and Taiwanese film organizations, Shadow Magic hasn't been seen much outside of film festivals, but it's a natural for DVD. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is strong, and the Dolby 2.0 Surround sound is pleasant. Most of the dialogue is in Mandarin (with the exception of some of Wallace and Liu's conversations), but Columbia TriStar's disc offers both English and French subtitles. Other extras include a full-length commentary by Hu, filmographies, a link to Sony Pictures Classics' official website for the film, and trailers for Shadow Magic and other SPC films. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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