Beijing, 1902: an enterprising young portrait photographer named Liu Jinglun, keen on new technology, befriends a newly-arrived Englishman who's brought projector, camera, and Lumière-brothers' shorts to open the Shadow Magic theater. Liu's work with Wallace brings him conflict with tradition and his father's authority, complicated by his falling in love with Ling, daughter of Lord Tan, star of Beijing's traditional opera. Liu sees movies as his chance to become wealthy and worthy of Ling. When the Shadow Magic pair are invited to show the films to the Empress Dowager, things look good. But, is disaster in the script? And, can movies preserve tradition even as they bring change? Written by
"Shadow Magic" (2000 award-winning co-production of mainland China, Germany, Taiwan, and US) is an epic melodrama about the coming of cinema to Old Peking. The year is 1902; the era of pigtails, the Empress Dowager, and the Boxer Rebellion aftermath distrust of foreign influence and domination. One of the more benign influences was photography, already somewhat accepted by those who could afford to have their pictures taken by the few Chinese professionals setting up shop in Peking and other large cities. Not so with motion pictures. Foreign entrepreneurs, usually small scale individual efforts, brought in movie equipment with early French silents and ran what amounted to raucous side-show entertainment on the teeming streets. This juxtaposition of modern novelty to Asian cultural tradition resulted in misunderstandings, sometimes tragic, but often hilarious.
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