|By Mira Harber
This is a movie for people who love movies. The time and place almost
don't matter - it is the seductive world of cinema that captures the hearts
and imaginations of many, regardless of the language.
In 1902 an itinerant Englishman named Raymond Wallis (Jared Harris) makes
his way to China and prepares to show the local populace the fantastic
new discovery of 'moving pictures.' A stranger in a strange land, he is
not initially accepted until he is befriended by a young Chinese man with
an adventurous spirit and enquiring mind.
Liu Jinglun (Xiz Yu) is a photographer's assistant who is in love with
inventions from the west. He's the first in Beijing to try a phonograph,
and he experiments, and is successful, in discovering the beginnings of
how to make pictures move. He is also a natural born salesman and entrepreneur.
With his help, the Englishman's simple, silent films become a smash sensation.
Magic (the name of both the show and the movie) is THE show in town
that everybody wants to see. It even displaces the famous opera singer
Master Ren and his show as the most popular entertainment in town. Our
hero Lin Jinglun is, of course, in love with the opera singerís daughter.
His father however, has different ideas, and has arranged for him to be
married to a chubby middle-aged widow. There's nothing like thwarted lovers
and familial opposition to drive the plot forward in a story.
The only thing that we can count on in life is change. The modern age encroaches
on the old, and even the Dowager Empress hears of the now famous Shadow
Magic and commands a special performance at the Imperial Palace. Even though
the event turns out to be something of a disaster, it is in truth the beginning
of the moving picture industry in China.
Magic captures the color and energy of the Chinese people. It
is at it's most beguiling when we see the locals filmed and then watch
them delight at seeing themselves and their friends on the big screen.
Both the English and Chinese stars of the film are perfect in their parts,
and even if Shadow Magic is a little melodramatic and contrived
at times, it is still charming and sweet. Definitely recommended.
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