Shadow Magic (2000)

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Released 9-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Big Fish
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 111:07
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ann Hu

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Jared Harris
Yu Xia
Yufei Xing
Peiqi Liu
Liping Lu
Jingming Wang
Yusheng Li
Yukui Zhang
Chuang Cheng
Zhongwei Zheng
Qi Mu
Qingzhuo Fang
Bin Li
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Lida Zhang

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    This is a film based on the true story of the first Chinese film filmmakers. Liu Jing Lun (Xia Yu) is the chief photographer in a Peking studio at the turn of the last century. One of the studio's clients is Lord Tan, the premier Chinese Opera singer of the day. Liu is smitten with Tan's daughter Ling.

    One day Liu sees a "shadow magic" show run by an Englishman named Raymond Wallace (Jared Harris, son of Richard), and is entranced by the possibilities of pictures that move. He spends his spare time working for the moving picture show, and is befriended by Wallace. But this activity draws him into conflict on three fronts: his father wants him to marry an older widow while he wants to marry Ling; his employer dismisses moving pictures as magic tricks and the success of the shadow magic show threatens the livelihood of Lord Tan. How these three strands are resolved is the plot of this film by first time feature director Ann Hu, a New York-based filmmaker.

    This sounds like a fascinating subject for a film, and up to a point it is engrossing. However, the film has some weak points. The direction shows a less experienced hand behind the camera, with an unevenness of tone through the film. There is also too much sentimentality, and the attitude of the film towards the Chinese people is a little patronising. The characters are barely fleshed out, and the storyline is slightly melodramatic. Still, because this is naive and innocuous it may be a tonic for viewers who are sick of the violence, sex and cynicism of most modern mainstream films.

    The real Liu Jing Lun (or Lu Zhunglun) was the cinematographer on the first two films made in China in 1905. Raymond Wallace seems to be a fictional character, though travelling film people like him did exist across Asia at the time. The films he shows are mainly those of the Lumiere brothers, though there are a couple of Edison films shown as well. Shadow Magic was apparently the first co-production between China and Taiwan.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in a panned and scanned aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The video image is reasonably sharp. There is however a slight lack of detail which is more noticeable in some of the wider shots. Shadow detail is not really an issue given the lighting, which looks unnatural most of the time.

    Colour is okay, with no particularly vivid hues on display, though some of the opera costumes have some bright colours.

    Aliasing is present throughout much of the picture. There is also edge enhancement, but the times when this is noticeable are few. Some grain is also evident.

    There are numerous small film artefacts visible, mainly white spots, although at times there are larger white chunks visible.

    Subtitles are burned-in, in large yellow lettering. There are quite readable, though I suspect that they are from the US release of the film, given that one of the children says "Neat!" at one point.

    This is a single-layer disc, so there is no layer change to contend with.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio channel is Dolby Digital 2.0.

    The soundtrack is a mix of Mandarin and English. None of it seems to be dubbed, as the English parts are spoken by Wallace and Liu in his halting English. Dialogue is quite clear and distinct all of the time, and I did not notice any audio sync issues. Surround encoding is present, which allows the music to come from the rear as well as the front speakers, and adds a little to the sound experience. I did not detect any subwoofer activity.

    The nicely idiomatic music score is by Zhang Lida, though there is also a music consultant credit to Howard Shore.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Menu Audio and Animation

    The main menu has a scene from the film with some of the music score in the background. The trailer menu has some music that has nothing to do with the film, and seems out of place.

Trailer - Big Fish (2:14)

    The sole extra is a trailer for another release from this distributor, presented in widescreen but not 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Region 4 gets dudded again in comparison to Region 1.

    In comparison to the Region 1, the Region 4 edition of this film misses out on:

    It is also presented on a dual-layer disc, and there is a trailer for the film as well as several other Chinese films.


    A simple film, this would provide entertainment if you are in an undemanding mood.

    The video quality is average and in the wrong aspect ratio.

    The audio quality is satisfactory.

    The extras are disappointing in comparison to the Region 1.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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