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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
This film is loosely based on history of the introduction of motion pictures to China, with a westerner Raymond Wallace, bringing in the format to the country and the shock and fear people had on this new piece of technology. At the same time, it is embraced by a chinese named Liu Jinglun, who has the curiosity for new things. Together, they eventually persuade the people embrace the medium.
It is a light film, with the Liu facing the dilemma of respecting his culture and tradition or embracing the new medium that is so frightening to his people. There is also the side plot of his desire to marry Lord Tan's daughter, but he would have to be rich. His path to richness would also make Lord Tan lose respect for him, since Lord Tan is a performer in the old medium of stage theater and his moving pictures would push that into oblivion. Of course, we end up with a happy ending because the new medium becomes a tool to supplement everything around it instead of taking it over. Which is basically the point of the story. Don't fear it, embrace and integrate it into your environment.
This film does not tackle the subjects it encounters very hard, it uses light mellowdrama and resolve all the issues amicably.
All in all, this film is easy to enjoy, but it will not be mistaken for the fifth generation films that came out of china a decade or so ago.
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