Michael Scott

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Shadow


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Movie: :4stars:
4K Video: :4.5stars:
Video: :5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :1.5stars:
Final Score: :4stars:



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Movie

Yimou Zhang has had a long and illustrious career, with many “solid” films interspersed with films that made him a legend. This is the director that gave us House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, Jet Li’s Hero, along with the U.S./Chinese collaboration film The Wall with Matt Damon (wasn’t he best film, but Yimou was given solid marks for trying to blend western action with hi flying Chinese period piece action). Shadow has been a film that’s been anticipated for quite a while for home theater enthusiasts, not just because it’s a return to form for Yimou as an epic storyteller, but because it’s the very first time that Well Go USA is releasing a 4K UHD disc. So you can bet your bottom dollar I was stoked to check this one out when the 4K disc showed up at my house this last week.

Ang Lee pretty much revamped the entire Wuxia community with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the world of high flying martial arts has never been the same since. Many have copied it’s style and visual flair, but none have succeeded at matching the sheer level or artistry that was involved with the film. Yimou Zhang appears to be doing the same thing in terms of style, making something so classic and so well used his own, and the cinematography world may never be the same. Shadow is equal parts artistic costume drama as well as it is a political action thriller, and with the inclusion of the film’s trademark monochromatic look (pretty much black and white at this point) crafts it into something that’s breathtaking to see.

The opening text gives us some backstory to the events that are to take place by informing us that years ago the kingdoms of Pei and Yang fought a war that was decided by a dual between the prized generals from each dynasty. General Yang (Hu Jun) of the Yang dynasty defeated commander Zi Yu (Deng Chao) of the Pei dynasty, and in the process the border city of Jing (the crown jewel of the Pei empire) was absorbed into the Yang’s borders. The Pei commander was seriously wounded in the fight, and a wound was inflicted on him that has never truly healed.

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Fast forward to today, and King Pei Liang is intent on keeping the peace with the Yangs. However, Zi Yu has gone behind his back and offered a rematch of their duel from years ago, forever defining who would control the city of Jing. Furious, Pei Liang strips the commander of his rank and sends him back out as a pure commoner. However, this isn’t going to stop said “commander”, as it is really not him pulling the strings. You see, this is not the real Zi Yu. The real Zi Yu is hidden away in a secret part of the castle, and put up a slave named Jing as his body double. The wound from Yang’s saber has never properly healed sadly, and it has taken a turn for the worst over the last year, prematurely aging him and causing him to dip into mere madness. As such, he needs to pull the strings from behind the curtain in order to manipulate the two kindgoms into fighting a rematch so that he can get his revenge on General Yang.

Shadow is a multi layered film, with differing groups of people seemingly working for different ends. Zi Yu and Jing are both working to unseat Yang, while the King is desperately trying to keep the peace, even if that means losing face with his people and the opposition. Zi Yu’s wife (only known as Madam, and played by Sun Li) is having a crisis of faith. She’s not sure whether to follow her husband’s machinations to the end, as she is actually becoming enamored with Jing, who is her “acting” husband during the ordeal. All of this culminates with an epic battle between Pei and Yang, as well as General Yang and Zu Yi (well, actually Jing) as the two kingdoms put to rest their personal grudges, and the battle for supremacy over the city of Jing.

Even though it’s pretty complex with its varying characters and sub plots, Shadow is a surprisingly easy story to follow. The twists and turns are a mixture of predictable and surprising, and while Yimou never truly gets the mind altering “epic” that he’s so obviously trying for, the movie itself is a lot of fun. Yimou foregoes nonstop action for a slow burn political story, but I never once felt like it was too sluggish to watch, nor was it devoid of any real action. The fight scenes are awe inspiring in their intricacy, making fights into near dance sequences, the final 30 minutes is a bloody mess of death, battles and betrayals in true Chinese epic fashion.




Rating:

Not Rated by the MPAA




4K Video: :4.5stars: Video: :5stars:
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Shadow was shot using a mixture of Phantom Flex 4K cameras and the Red Weapon digital camera system in 8K, then transferred to a native 4K master for the home video release. The 4K UHD disc is a surprisingly large, yet surprisingly subtle upgrade over the stunning Blu-ray disc. The film is shot with a heavy monochromatic color tone with only intermittent splashes of color. The film isn’t a traditional black and white picture, but the monochromatic looks is so strong that it almost perfectly mimics black and white for the most part. Only small flecks of color are allowed in, such as arterial blood spray and skin tones. Even then the colors are barely noticeable and act as accents more than something to stand out (ala Sin City) and fit into the monochromatic color scheme very well. At first glance you’re not going to see a massive upgrade in details and textural depth to the 4K image, but upon looking closer it’s really impressive. This is a disc that will stress test the black capabilities of your display, and those with weaker displays will notice crush and not much of an upgrade over the Blu-ray. HOWEVER, if you have a solid display with good black level reproduction (my buddy’s LG OLED made this disc REALLY shine, even more so than my excellent Sony) then the upgrades become very very noticeable. The blacks are deep and inky, so dark that when you get lost in a shadow, only the most intricate of nuances are available, only to show every line and crease on the dimly lit robes, or the water droplets splashing off of the black yin/yang Tai Chi symbol in the commander’s cave. Honestly, this is one impressive disc, and the complete lack of banding on it is just icing on the cake. Stylistically Shadow is a gorgeous film, and this 4K UHD upgrade makes it even more so.







Audio: :4.5stars:
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Shadow has a NEAR flawless Dolby Atmos track (one of the few, as Well Go USA has stuck mainly to DTS:X tracks for their next gen mixes) that is available on both the Blu-ray and the 4K UHD discs (there’s an English Dolby Digital 5.1 lossy track on the disc, but the Atmos is in the original Mandarin only). The track is nuanced and extremely agile, shifting from melodic Chinese Guqin (stringed harp like instrument) to heavy crashing of blades and the sharp rasp of footsteps on stone floors. The movie is a bit of a slow burn at times, but the action sequences are incredibly immersive, with blades flying by your head, slamming in the back of the room, and the score just permeates every second of the mix. Since the movie has perpetual rain going on the listener is immersed in the droplets falling from overhead (making use of the Atmos overheads) as well as all around the listening position in a light pitter patter. The bass is powerful and judiciously used throughout the movie, and while it hits hard and low, the LFE is never over aggressively mixed and blends seamlessly with the rest of the music, ambient noises and general feel of the political thriller. One thing that was pointed out to me, and that I noticed for myself on subsequent watches, was the overhead usage. The constant dropping of rain is about the only place said overheads are really utilized. I mean, I can hear the ambient rain drizzling down throughout, but discrete effects in the overhead plane are rather obviously missing. The battle for Jing City would have been a perfect place to utilize them with the fan blades being sent across the room, and while you can hear them in the side and rear surrounds as they whistle from front to back, they don't really engage overhead in any way. It's not a HUGE disappointment as the rest of the track is really incredible, but something to note if you were expecting heavy overhead usage.









Extras: :1.5stars:
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• Making of
• U.S. Trailer
• Well Go USA Trailers










Final Score: :4.5stars:


Being that Shadow was their first 4K UHD film ever, Well Go USA did a phenomenal job with the presentation, and the film itself is quite a bit of fun. As much costume drama as period piece political action thriller, Shadow tries to fall along with the classics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers in scope and execution, only falling short JUUUUUST barely of that goal. While Yimous Zhang doesn’t always realize every one of his epic oriented goals, Shadow is a very solid movie in her arsenal of films and makes for a beautiful watch from a technical standpoint as well. The 4K UHD disc is a nice upgrade over the Blu-ray if you have the equipment for 4K, but either one is devoid of most extras besides your typical trailers and a making of set of features. Definitely worth checking out.



Technical Specifications:

Starring: Chao Deng, Li Sun, Qianyuan Wang, Jingchun Wang, Ryan Zheng, Jun Hu, Xiaotong Guan, Lei Wu
Directed by: Yimou Zhang
Written by: Wei Li, Yimou Zhang
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 HEVC
Audio: Mandarin: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1), English DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional)
Rated: NR
Runtime: 116 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 13th, 2019
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Recommendation: Fun Watch

 
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Todd Anderson

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Fascinating that this is Well Go's first 4K release... Mike, I know you're a big fan of what Well Go represents. Your words carry a lot of weight, here!
 

Ralph Potts

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Greetings,

Thanks Mike. I am putting the finishing touches on my review. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the video quality. Regarding the Atmos mix, I found that the height channels were sorely under utilized. Do you have the ability to listen only to the height speakers in your set up? If you do, switch off the speakers at ear level during the opening to chapters 5, 6, and all of chapter 8. All you will find is low level ambient bleed mostly in the form of falling rain, mixed to them. There are zero sound objects mixed in the height plane. In nearly every other respect I enjoyed the mix.
 

Michael Scott

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Greetings,

Thanks Mike. I am putting the finishing touches on my review. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the video quality. Regarding the Atmos mix, I found that the height channels were sorely under utilized. Do you have the ability to listen only to the height speakers in your set up? If you do, switch off the speakers at ear level during the opening to chapters 5, 6, and all of chapter 8. All you will find is low level ambient bleed mostly in the form of falling rain, mixed to them. There are zero sound objects mixed in the height plane. In nearly every other respect I enjoyed the mix.
you are correct Ralph. I was a little surprised, as the ambient rain is really only where I heard the overheads kick in (as I mentioned in the review), otherwise they were surprising light. I hesitated on giving it a 5/5 and almost gave it a 4.5/5 rating, but the rest of the surround usage was so good. I couldn't justify it. Surprised it is THAT light once you isolated those two channels.

I didn't think to turn off the other channels at all, but I did stand up on my chair and try to focus on them during the action sequences. I'll double check if my receiver can do that for future testing of the overheads
 
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Ralph Potts

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Greetings,

Okay. After reading your comments I wasn't sure if you were aware of how the overheads were utilized. From my seat the rain never really kicks in as its mixed at too low a volume in the overheads to be a factor. The falling rain mixed to the front and rear surrounds at ear level is where most of the sound emanates from. Even during the action sequences there is really nothing but low level "rain" coming from above. Chapter 8's extended battle with the flying umbrella sabers and launched arrows had ample room for overhead use but, nothing. At any rate, I am glad that you really enjoyed it. Nice review.
 

Michael Scott

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Greetings,

Okay. After reading your comments I wasn't sure if you were aware of how the overheads were utilized. From my seat the rain never really kicks in as its mixed at too low a volume in the overheads to be a factor. The falling rain mixed to the front and rear surrounds at ear level is where most of the sound emanates from. Even during the action sequences there is really nothing but low level "rain" coming from above. Chapter 8's extended battle with the flying umbrella sabers and launched arrows had ample room for overhead use but, nothing. At any rate, I am glad that you really enjoyed it. Nice review.
you got my OCD going now Ralph. I'm in the middle of the battle of Jing City scene right now with my mains and surrounds turned down and you're right. without the rear and side channels to distract you it's really obvious. Certain sounds I was attributing to the overheads were actually just the sides and rears giving a slight placebo effect. I mean, I can still hear the rain as the overheads are literally 4.5 feet over my head (making them the closest speakers in my setup lol) but yeah, they went near dead silent for that scene. Thanks for pointing that out Ralph. Now that I've focused on it, I can't un hear it lol. Methinks a score adjustment is in need with that being pointed out.

EDIT: adjusting the writeup to make note of this point
 
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tripplej

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Thanks for the review. Will see this one. :)
 

Michael Scott

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Greetings,

Lol! I hear you Mike. Glad to help and I hope I didn't spoil the track for you!


Regards,
lol, all good Ralph. I always appreciate it when someone points out something I missed as accuracy is key in this line of work.

and luckily the rest of the track is excellent, and the overheads are only an "enhancement" in my opinion rather than a dealbreaker. Just really weird as the movie obviously has the scenes to make that kind of overhead magic work but it wasn't utilized
 

Todd Anderson

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It can be VERY difficult to discern the difference, Mike.

Atmos isn't always about the heavy use of over head speakers... it can add a very airy and lightness to sound in a room too. Although, it's certainly fun when the overheads are pounding away ;-)
 
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