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Shadow is a 2018 Chinese Wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou. Years ago, the kingdom of Pei lost the important city of Jingzhou to the kingdom of Yang after the popular and brilliant Commander Ziyu lost a duel to the infamously unbeatable Yang Cang. Now, with the aid of his body double and "shadow", Jingzhou, Ziyu has put into motion a plan to get his revenge upon Yang Cang and reclaim the city of Jingzhou for Pei.


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The film features the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The film ends before it's revealed if Xiao Ai will reveal Jingzhou is an imposter or not to the officials.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's never made clear if Ziyu had Jingzhou's mother killed and sent assassins after him to tie up loss ends, or if the king of Pei did it so that he could have one of his own men save Jingzhou and turn him against Ziyu.
  • Backstab Backfire: At the end of the film, Ziyu tries to stab Jingzhou in the back to rid himself of his "shadow" once and for all. However, Jingzhou anticipates the betrayal and kills Ziyu instead.
  • Battle in the Rain: All the climactic fights take place in the rain. This is understandable, as it rains for the entire length of the movie.
  • Blade on a Stick: The guandao is apparently the signature weapon of the kingdom of Yang, as all of its soldiers wield one. General Yang Cang is known to be particularly skilled with it.
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  • Body Double: Jingzhou was taken in by Ziyu's family as a child and trained to serve as Ziyu's body double, or "shadow".
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Ziyu has spent the years since his defeat in hiding while training Jingzhou to be his perfect double, devising a scheme to avenge himself on Yang Cang, reclaim the city of Jingzhou, and eventually take over the kingdom.
    • The king turns out to be Ziyu's equal when it's revealed that he was aware of Ziyu's scheme all along and used this knowledge for his own ends.
  • Color Motifs: Black and white, and of course shades of gray.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: While the film is technically in color, the color palette is so washed out that everything looks like it's greyscale.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The film seems to build up toward a climactic duel between Jingzhou and Yang Cang, but there is still about half an hour of runtime left after the latter is defeated and the city is retaken by the Pei army. Instead, the final confrontation plays out between Jingzhou, Ziyu and the king.
  • Duel to the Death: After the duel between Jingzhou and Yang Cang has gone on for three rounds without a clear winner, the latter proposes to call it a draw so that both of them can leave alive and with their honor intact. However, Jingzhou realizes that the Pei army still needs more time to successfully retake the city and insists on another round – this time to the death.
  • Evil Chancellor: Yu Fan, the king of Pei’s chief advisor, turns out to be a spy for the Yang kingdom.
  • Feed the Mole: During the film’s climax, it is revealed that the king of Pei was aware that his advisor Yu Fan was a spy for the Yang kingdom and used this knowledge to feed his enemies false information.
  • Friendly Enemy: Yang Cang considers himself a man of honor and conducts himself accordingly. He is nothing but respectful in his interactions with Jingzhou even when they are fighting a Duel to the Death.
  • Handicapped Badass: Even while suffering from a crippling wound, Ziyu is still able to defeat three of the king's assassins.
  • Identical Stranger: Jingzhou, a commoner adopted from the streets, bears such an uncanny resemblance to Ziyu that no one is able to tell the difference between them.
  • Kill and Replace:
    • Ziyu is aware that Jingzhou could easily kill him and take his place with no one being the wiser, which is why he tries very hard to ensure the latter's loyalty and ultimately decides to betray him once he has served his purpose.
    • Towards the end of the film, the king of Pei reveals that he planned to secretly rid himself of the treacherous Ziyu and replace him with Jingzhou. After the king is killed by Ziyu, Jingzhou decides to go through with it himself.
  • Mutual Kill: Yang Ping mortally wounds Qingping, who in turn manages to lure him close enough to stab him in the throat before dying herself.
  • One-Word Title: Job Title, meaning a Body Double.
  • Parasol of Pain: Ziyu invents the Umbrella of Pei, which is essentially an umbrella made of overlapping blades. It includes the ability to fling these blades as projectiles.
  • Parrying Bullets: Some of the Yang soldiers, especially the more skilled ones, are capable of blocking projectiles with their guandao.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Yang Ping taunts the dying Qingping by telling her that women should stay at home where they belong.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Jingzhou is retaken, the king of Pei tells Yu Fan that he will be rewarded for his service, only to kill him after revealing that he knew about the latter's betrayal.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Princess Qingping personally aids the army of convicts in their recapture of Jingzhou. She is killed in the battle, but manages to take Yang Ping with her.
  • The So-Called Coward: The king of Pei is seen as an incompetent, spineless coward even by his own court officials, but reveals himself to be much more cunning and dangerous than anyone would have suspected during the film's climax.
  • Trojan Horse: The boat carrying the platform on which Jingzhou and Yang Cang duel also carries Tian's forces, who infiltrate the city's waterways while everyone is distracted by the duel.
  • Unstoppable Rage: After realizing that the duel was just a distraction and he has lost not only the city, but also his son, Yang Cang hurls away his guandao with a scream of rage, charges at Jingzhou and very nearly succeeds in killing him with his bare hands.
  • We Can Rule Together: After revealing that he knew about the plot against him all along, the king of Pei offers Jingzhou to join him and replace Ziyu as the kingdom's commander-in-chief.
  • World's Best Warrior: Yang Cang is both feared and renowned for his fighting skills. It is said that no opponent can last more than three rounds in a duel against him, and that a single strike of his guandao is enough to cripple a man for life (if he's not killed instantly).
  • Worthy Opponent: When Yang Cang meets Jingzhou (believing him to be Ziyu), he is impressed that his supposed opponent has recovered so quickly from his defeat in their last duel, and even more so after Jingzhou withstands Yang Cang's attacks for three continuous rounds – something that was previously thought to be impossible.
  • Wuxia: The film is a imaginative of the Three Kingdoms Period featuring spectacular martial arts.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: In the film's climax, several schemes collide with one another, forcing the characters to rapidly alter their plans in an attempt to gain the upper hand:
    • The king of Pei reveals that he knew about Jingzhou's true identity and Ziyu's plan to usurp the throne all along. He claims that Ziyu ordered the death of Jingzhou's mother, and that he has already sent his own assassins to kill Ziyu, offering Jingzhou to take the latter's place as the kingdom's commander-in-chief.
    • Ziyu manages to kill the assassins, dresses up as one of them, and returns to the throne room to stab the unsuspecting king in the back. He then claims that it was actually the king who ordered the death of Jingzhou's mother, trying to goad Jingzhou into killing the wounded king for him and planning to backstab Jingzhou while he's distracted.
    • Jingzhou anticipates Ziyu's betrayal and stabs him first, then kills both Ziyu and the king while making it look like they killed each other, and puts a mask on Ziyu's face to conceal his identity. Then, still playing the part of Ziyu, he announces to the court officials that the king has been assassinated and that he will take over the kingdom.
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