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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8%
Average: 24%
Pretty Bad: 24%
Total Crap: 8%

3 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Shadow Magic
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Superficial and naive snapshot by Hu leaves no obsession with real longshot"
2 stars

When a movie that is presented as what you might call education, is not educational, it isn't doing it's job. For example, if "The Dish" completely neglected the telescope after which the title was named for, it would have failed. At least with Ann Hu's "Shadow Magic," she does not completely misken the wonderment of the introduction of moving images --via film-- but instead of telling or showing about it, she discursively falls onto a love story and narrowmindedly treats the overall material as if it were meant as an educational tool for little children.

Shortly following the fin de siecle in Peking, China, now 1902, a local and famous opera performer is threatened by loss turn-out when an Anglo, Raymond Wallace (Jared Harris) brings the West's foremost invention: the moving picture. Upon his unwelcomed arrival ("Directly from Paris," he proudly announced, though in English and without the slightest trace of a French accent) the idea does not catch on very fast, but when an inquisitive young photographer's apprentice (actually, he is the photographer, he just works for the owner of the shop) Liu (Xia Yu) tags on long enough to become Wallace's apprentice, and the interest of the community begins to catch up.

All of "Shadow Magic" is a very pedagogical exercise by Hu, who naively presents this as a paint-it-by-the-numbers as she herself elementarily connects the dots. For all the fuss and excitement that we gather really did take place, there is no sign of such by Hu. Everything is implied, or only inchoately shown, like Liu's obsession with images and trying to find out how such an image would work. We see the question and bewilderment in his face, but without showing us how it is the passion to him that the movie tells us burns within, we see him fiddle around with a toy and then comprehend the illusion of "movement." The obsession, as with the treatment of the characters, is all very superficial. Wallace and Liu are badly developed characters, filled with mawkish familial difficulties in hopes of adding avoirdupois to this featherweight tale. The emphasis of the story is improperly shifted onto the characters' personal plights rather than on the innovation where it should be. The idea of the origin of film and the societal introduction seem much more interesting than a plain look at poorly created fictional characters.

One of the worst choices made by Hu was to make the movie predominantly in English. Aside from this being set in China, this invention was claimed to be French, so it is the obvious assumption since this is coming from Paris, the bearer should be speaking French. By having "Shadow Magic" in English, the notion comes to be that it was done as such only in hopes of making it appeal largely to an American audience.

For a movie about curiosity, "Shadow Magic" hardly obtains the fascination or absorption it intends. The love story between Liu and the performer's young daughter Ling (Xing Yufei) is clichéd, undeveloped, and nothing more than a patina to a story that five people (Huang Dan, Tang Louyi, Kate Raisz, Bob McAndrew and Hu) cannot properly assemble. It is filled with a predictable amount of triumph and defeat, happiness and sorrow, and repetitive stupidity (the foreshadowing of the spark-prone plug) to be spread amongst any number of other movies, however dealing with much more plain and average subject matter.

Jared Harris turns in an awful performance, constantly over-doing all the aspects of his role. He booms and bellows, sweats and churns, rambles and embarrasses himself. He has never been very good in a role, the only one I really liked was his cab driver in Todd Solondz's "Happiness." But others, including "B. Monkey," "Far and Away," "Smoke" and especially "I Shot Andy Warhol," none have been as ridiculously miscast as this role. His decadent and haphazard mouth rival him as the true father of Joaquin Phoenix. Xia Yu is far more appealing than Harris, and much better performed, but he doesn't control the transitions his character goes through well. The other piece of miscasting goes to Xing Yufei, a very stiff and inexperienced actresses, who provides no validity or personality in her role. She seems to be cast more on her looks than her capability as an actress, but even her beauty was muted far beyond any desired target.

Final Verdict: C-.

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originally posted: 04/13/01 20:56:25
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User Comments

8/19/05 Marium arain Good movie 4 stars
9/22/04 carlos tortomano sara tortomano, Communicate with me, URGENTLY 1 stars
11/07/03 Georges Erles Memorable film. Acting first-rate, story is charming & engaging 5 stars
11/06/03 Raymond This is a film that is simple yet beautifully orchestrated. It is definitely worth a look. 5 stars
9/19/01 Genghiz Gorgeous and touching, fantastic movie in every sense, in culture and history. 5 stars
5/26/01 sara tortomano it was stupid 1 stars
5/01/01 Rutegar Dupree Beautiful,charming film with some wonky plot devices. 4 stars
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  06-Apr-2001 (PG)



Directed by
  Ann Hu

Written by
  Ann Hu

  Jared Harris
  Xia Yu
  Lu Peiqi
  Lu Liping
  Xing Xufei
  Wang Jingming

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