Filmmakers often define their movies by making distinctive visual choices. Whether it’s Victor Fleming signaling The Wizard of Oz’s shift from Kansas to Oz by introducing bold Technicolor, or Zack Snyder reinventing the ancient world on a digital soundstage with 300, some films stand out because they introduce cinematic worlds that don’t look like anything that’s come before.

Add to that list Zhang Yimou’s Shadow, a historical fantasy-drama that reimagines the palace intrigue of China’s Three Kingdoms era as an almost entirely black-and-white world, where the swirl of the two colors reflects the moral grayness of the people who inhabit it. Zhang creates the look not by shooting in black and white, but by using sets and costumes drained of virtually all color. When other shades come into play, like skin tones and the desaturated greens of the nearby forest, their significance leaps off the screen. And as the violence mounts in the back half of the film, blood introduces yet another important color. What’s black and white and (eventually) red all over? This movie.

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