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Movie Review: Shadow Magic

Story: Remember the first movie you ever went to as a kid? Remember the first time you ever saw yourself in some jiggly Super 8 home movie (this is a memory that does not include all of the sophisticated video-cam stuff that is currently ubiquitous)? Here is a flash for you! I just love the movies! And anyone who has a similar feeling will be enamored by this charming film about the introduction of motion pictures into China, in 1902. Based on a true story, a foreign entrepreneur arrives in Peking (remember when it was called this, not Beijing?) with a camera, a projector and several short film pieces, most made by film pioneers, the Lumiere brothers. The overlapping human stories reflect the period in China's history (the Qing Dynasty) where rituals, customs and traditions in class and economic status are ingrained but on the brink of change. Director and co-writer Ann Hu gives us a loving tribute to the power of film. The best scenes are those in the darkened halls where these films are first viewed by an awaiting Chinese public. It made me long for the days before everyone and everything was videotaped for instant self-gratification and spin.

Acting: Jared Harris (Basquiat) is adequate as the foreign character who introduces film to China. Xia Yu, is exceptional as the young man who aids the foreigner in his quest to bring China into the modern world.

Critters: Camels, llamas and chickens

Food: You would think there would be lots of Chinese food in the film, but alas, there were no food scenes.

Visual Art: The early Lumiere clips were delightful.

Blatant Product Placement: None.

Soundtrack: Some wonderful Chinese opera.

Opening Titles: Simple.

Theater Audience: This was the best part. While standing on line (yes, there was a line) we noticed some quirky Chinese characters lurking around the theater. We were particularly struck by a Chinese woman with a top knot. I began looking for signs of bound feet. The theater was filled with a mostly Chinese audience (all ages) who pretty much jabbered, cried out and giggled through out the film. Incredibly it did not bothered us but added to the enjoyment of this American-Chinese film co-production.

Quirky Meter: 2

Squirm Scale: There was a few seconds of film of a cock fight (sans fighting) but I still squirmed.

Oscar Worthy: No

Nit Picking: The film was too long. There was also a lot of dragging in the middle and some poor editing but the 'audience' scenes made up for these problems.

Big Screen or Rental: Rental would be fine. There are some excellent films on China - from Raise the Red Lantern to the most recent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A Chinese cinema weekend with Chinese food delivered in would be a great idea.

Length: Two hours.