Okay, so I’m both a sucker for movies about how wonderful cinema can be (yes, Cinema Paradiso makes me feel all mushy) and a pretty heavy duty consumer of Chinese/ Hong Kong films. Does that mean I can’t be objective about this film about the birth of cinema in China?
Well, to be honest, it is sort of titled in my direction, so let’s just toss objectivity out the window and praise this thing for a couple of paragraphs.
This truly international production (including entities from both the PRC and Taiwan) marks Director/ Writer/ Producer Ann Hu’s feature length debut and she makes the most of the opportunity, delivering a charming, vibrant film. Partially based on the real events that lead to the rise of motion pictures in China, the film follows the trials of Liu Zhong Lun (Xia Yu), a photographer at the Feng Tai Photo Shop in Peking, and Raymond Wallace (Jared Harris) as they try to spread the wonder of moving pictures (“Shadow Magic” is the name of their show), win the hearts of their respective significant others and make a good buck in the process.
Well acted all around (especially the two leads), well written, with a wonderful use of Chinese locations and a sweet undercurrent that runs throughout the proceedings, Shadow Magic is a damn fine film. If you’ve got a love for the movies (or just like good movies) this is certainly one to check out.
Originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in September 2000.