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The year is 1902, and Raymond Wallace, Jared Harris, arrives in Beijing to demonstrate the new art of the new century - moving pictures. With a bag full of Lumiere and Edison one reelers, he sets up his `shadow magic` show and soon finds an eager disciple in Liu, Xia Yu, who works as assistant to the city`s leading photographer....Shadow Magic is something of a curiosity. On the one hand it`s a fascinating look at the arrival of cinema in China and the birth of film production in that country; but most of the running time is taken up with the problems of the Englishman`s young assistant, Liu, his romance with the daughter of the star of the Beijing Opera and his unpopular alignment with the foreigner who arouses such suspicions among the traditional Chinese. Visually the film is rich, and the performances are generally appealing, though Jared Harris can`t do much with an under developed role (why did Wallace choose China as a basis for his operations?). But director Ann Hu (not to be confused with Hong Kong director Ann Hui) doesn`t make the most of the promising premise.

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PG
1 hour 56 min

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