A review of  Shadow Magic” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG for good for everyone

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

 

The early, magical days of Chinese cinema get the nostalgic treatment in director Ann Hu’s affecting ode to turn of the century charm and technological naiveté.  Jared Harris stars as Englishman Raymond Wallace, who lands on China’s shores with the first glimpse of “shadow magic”, or moving pictures.  An eager young photographer’s apprentice (Xia Yu as Liu), obsessed with Western novelties, is instantly enamored of the moving picture process, and enthusiastically offers his services to Wallace.

The Chinese are initially frightened by this strange phenomenon, and boycott Wallace’s fledgling operation. With Liu’s intervention, business begins to flourish.  Unfortunately, Liu’s involvement threatens his relationship with his boss, with China’s famed opera star Lord Tan, and with Tan’s daughter with whom Liu is in love.

Sumptuously filmed and lovingly re-created by Hu, this tale of the pitfalls of foreign technology resonates with modern values but maintains its old world charm.  Liu is a bundle of energy and master of the endearing expression. Consequently, he manages to sidestep the occasionally lackluster pacing.  Score is lushly sentimental, but the two-hour length positively bludgeons the point to death.