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
Unpretentious, warmly human, and quite fascinating portrait of how the introduction of cinema opened new worlds to the people of China in 1902.
Gentle and genial film seems to have been overlooked as a triviality...and to be fair the narrative is a bit tenuous and lightweight as drama....but I feel the simple wonder and joy of the scenes depicting the first impact of a new art on an alien and sceptical society have a radiance and naturalness which capture the century long romance between cinema and audience better than any film in years. Immensely sympathetic performance from Jared Harriss (who seems to have inherited all of his fathers charisma...hopefully without poor Richards penchant for hellraising and haminess)....and charming offbeat cuteness from costar Yu Xia combine to make this a real heartwarmer. Radiant location photography (including glowingly beautiful scenes at the great wall) and sensitive direction by Ann Hu give film added impact. In short a must for anyone ever enchanted by a shadow flickering to life...and making magic in the dark.
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