Shadow Magic

on April 06, 2001 by Kevin Courrier
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   Ann Hu's "Shadow Magic" is certainly an extravagant account of the momentous arrival of cinema in China at the turn of the century. But the story becomes something far more conventional.

   The year is 1902, and an ambitious photographer, Liu (Xia Yu), who is about to photograph one of China's great opera stars, finds himself looking ahead to the future. The future arrives in the presence of Raymond Wallace (Jared Harris), a British entrepreneur, who brings the discovery of the motion picture. Although the images overwhelm the Chinese populace, Liu sees the power contained within them. But it also puts him in conflict with the owner of the photo shop and the woman he loves.

   "Shadow Magic" is obviously a labor of love for the director, but it fails to stoke imagination. Hu concentrates the drama on Liu and Wallace's budding and conflicting friendship rather than the many reasons why movies would stir strong reaction in Chinese culture. All "Shadow Magic" lacks is magic.    Starring Jared Harris, Xia Yu, Lu Peiqi and Lu Liping. Directed and written and produced by Ann Hu. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Chinese-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 115 min.

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