The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang is a 2019 Chinese historical fantasy comedy film directed by Yan Jia, written by Liu Bohan and Jian Wen, and starring Jackie Chan, Zhong Chuxi, Ethan Juan, Lin Peng, and Austin Lin. The film was released on 5 February 2019 in China.
Jackie Chan’s new film has three different images of the popular action icon. First, a version rejuvenated by computer for a good 30 years. Then a version of today’s Jackie Chan. I write “Version” because Jackie Chan seems strangely digitally lifted through the entire film. And last but not least, a completely computer-generated image for the large CGI showdown. Unfortunately, this overload of Jackies is not very conducive to “The Knight of Shadows”. But one after the other.
Jackie Chan plays a demon hunter with the sonorous name Pu Songling. He has a magic brush with which he can banish the many demons in his world into a magic book. With the resulting demon hunting stories, he keeps the eyes of the children of his home village shining and earns a little extra income. However, he and his stories are not really taken seriously. When several young girls suddenly disappear in Pu’s village, a local police apprentice asks for help.
This is the start of a turbulent adventure in which Pu quickly claims to have identified a mirror demon as the culprit. He also quickly gets to the bottom of it. But when Pu’s paths cross with those of another demon hunter, it gets really complicated. Demon hunter Ning Cai Cheng is chasing the mirror demon’s accomplice: Nie Xiaoqian. He is connected to her in an unholy but deep love.
For “The Knight of Shadows” you have to have a certain ability to suffer. Childish humor, fart gags, strange CGI characters as friends of Jackie’s Pu, overacting, grimacing actors and little physical action are just a few of the criticisms. The main problem, however, is that the film’s story is only interesting when Jackie Chan is not there. Say: It is the story about Ning Cai Cheng and Nie Xiaoqian that actually touches you every now and then.
While director Vash around Jackie Chan’s character ignites everything that only makes you roll your eyes in annoyance, he stages the story of the two lovers much more animated. The silliness factor is significantly reduced, melodramatic tones mix in, a melancholic score sounds and the images are of a bewitching and enraptured beauty.
If Vash had dared to take Chan out of the film and deepen the story of the two lovers even more, “The Knight of Shadows” would have had potential for a really beautiful fantasy romance. Instead, the film rumbles a bit overloaded. Chan’s character and the beautiful love story have not come together for a long time. Most characters remain random at all times. At least Chan tries very hard to let his well-known mischief flash. As a result, for a long time, his pu looked much more likeable than the last Jackie Chan heroes from, for example, “Bleeding Steel” or “Kung Fu Yoga”.
In return, “The Knight of Shadows” totally leaves Jackie Chan’s Actionman qualities under the table. Chan has a single scene in which he is involved in physical action with swordsmen. It looks stiff, sluggish and far from what you are used to from the martial arts whirlwind. Apart from that, we only see the action star swinging the magic brush and palaverting supposed spells. The rest of the “action” comes entirely from the computer.
This brings us to the next big point of criticism: “The Knight of Shadows” is overloaded with special effects. These fluctuate enormously in their quality. While some look like ported from a Playstation 3, others are almost surreal and develop their own atmosphere for the film. A really strange companion is called Pus, which can take on all kinds of functions from a kind of shrine to the means of transportation of the heroes and just looks very slanted for the western eye. A fight with some nice optical gags in a kind of mirror cabinet also scores with the will of the effect artists for oblique inserts. And even the showdown, initially annoying with effects, creates one or another wow effect thanks to its cool setting. The film and the characters, however, were long overwhelmed by the effects machine.
On the surface, “The Knight of Shadows” is little more than a noisy fantasy punk that hardly deserves attention thanks to strange CGI anime characters, stupid humor, hollow characters and a completely given away Jackie Chan. Especially since the film flattened some of his star’s likeable moments with an insane overload of effects. However, if you take a closer look, you will notice that the plot around the second demon hunter and his sad love story, which has been held up for too long, had real potential.
It doesn’t even bother that Elane Zhong acts catastrophically emotionless as the demon hunter’s love interest. Even because Ethan Juan (“Detective Dee and the legend of the four heavenly kings”) acts so desperately as a demon hunter in love, the love story still pulls you away. Also because director Vash uses the effects machine sensibly and to support the storyline and does not just bring out what is there without making sense. In short: Vash would have been well advised to concentrate exclusively on the love story. A classic of the format of an “A Chinese Ghost Story” would still not have come out. But at least there would have been a chance to get a reasonably nice film going. So it’s just a noisy fantasy puss.
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