Moving Pictures into China
Shadow Magic
Review by Ross Anthony

1902 mainland China, a British entrepreneur strikes up his 5 chen picture show, "Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up..." But no Chinaman gives this white devil the time of day, save for charming still photographer Liu. Lui's curiosity and love for invention break the great wall of culture, tradition and loyalty in search of truth, self, and friendship.

Liu and the Brit team up despite Liu's father's commands to the contrary. Though they delight in shunning the foreigner, the townsfolk must admit they enjoy watching the moving pictures even more. They're a captive audience, swaying and smiling, dodging the silent black and white locomotive, laughing at the Europeans engaging in snowball fights, and the dancer in fur, fluttering like a butterfly. "I always looked upon foreigners as soldiers, I never thought they had families. They even appear to have feelings." A local quips to her friend.

Into this bond of pioneers toss a tempting romance for Liu and "Shadow Magic" becomes a charming picture show of its own.

Liu's beaming joy in invention is contagious, while Jared Harris smashingly plays the determined fish out of water and concerned partner. As Liu himself had hoped to do with this new medium, this film captures in splendid color the traditional Chinese art form of Opera. The brief snowy shots of the grand palace are subtly breathtaking. Also momentary, but magical, the butterfly contraption Liu created. Though the costuming is satisfactory, the actual clothing needs to be a bit dirtier and worn.

Will this wicked invention from the West destroy ancient eastern culture - or will it capture it on film forever? Ultimately, the film is as charming as Liu's smile. While Lui and other characters are based on historical people; Raymond (the Brit) is a fictionalization of one of the few anonymous foreigners who brought moving pictures to the East at the turn of the century.

(In Mandarin with English subtitles.) Also of note: This is the first official co-production between Beijing Film Studio and Taiwan's Central Motion (among other international companies). Director Ann Hu was born in China, endured hard times during the cultural revolution and moved to the United States where she carved a career for herself as a successful business woman. This is her first film.

  • Shadow Magic. Copyright © 2001.
  • Starring Jared Harris, Xia Yu, Xing Yufei, Liu Peiqi, Lu Liping, Wang Jingming, Li Yusheng.
  • Directed by Ann Hu.
  • Written by Huang Dan, Tang Louyi, Kate Raisz, Bob McAndrew, Ann Hu.
  • Produced by Ann Hu, Sandra Schulberg at Sony Classics, C&A, Beijing Film Studio, China Film, Taiwan Central Motion Pic, Post Prod. Playground, Shulberg, Road Movies Vierte.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:53:32 PDT