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'Shadow Magic'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2001


Born in China and based in New York, filmmaker Ann Hu has the cross-cultural perspective necessary to capture the East-West tensions that flavor "Shadow Magic," the first lyrical feature after her 1994 16mm debut "Dream and Memory."

Set in 1902, the fact-based film tells the story of the early introduction of motion pictures to China by an opportunistic English huckster named Raymond Wallace (Jared Harris). Aided by Liu Jinglun (the immensely appealing Xia Yu), a wide-eyed young photographer's assistant Raymond hires from the local population, Raymond must first overcome his own and his audience's xenophobia before he can start to attract a following.

Eventually, thanks to Liu's infectious fascination with the medium, Raymond's sideshow begins to gain headway with the initially suspicious Chinese, leading to such images as a roomful of rapt, slack-jawed Asian viewers watching stock footage of speeding trains, white babies and American dancer Loie Fuller twirling to the soundtrack accompanyment of a Richard Strauss waltz.

Schmaltzy but effective, the scene plays upon the same nostalgia for the innocent days of cinema's infancy and wonder that powered "Cinema Paradiso."

"Shadow Magic" works on other levels, too. On one, it's the story of Raymond and Liu's friendship, on another, it's a love story between Liu and Ling (Xing Yufei), the beautiful daughter of a famous Chinese opera star.

It's a film about culture clash, the generation gap and the loss of tradition that inevitably accompanies the arrival of anything new.

But more than anything, it's a film about film, and Hu's love of the medium's storytelling power shines through every frame.

"Shadow Magic" (PG, 115 minutes) – Contains mild obscenity. In Mandarin with English subtitles and some English.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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