‘Shadows’ Review: Stephy Tang Leads the Fundamentally Vague and Incoherent Psychological Thriller

Shadows Review 1

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‘Shadows’ centers on a psychiatrist entering the mind of a patient or a person to search for an answer. The logline somehow reminds me of a movie that I have seen before in the past. A movie titled ‘The Cell,’ to be exact. You know, the one where Jennifer Lopez plays a child psychologist enters the mind of a serial killer, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, to locate the missing kidnap victim. Whereas ‘The Cell’ contains at least a tangible plot device of Jennifer Lopez’s character uses experimental technology to dive into the serial killer’s mind, ‘Shadows’ wants us to suspend our disbelief even further.

Here, we have Dr. Tsui (Stephy Tang), a psychiatrist who somehow can enter her patient’s subconscious during a private one-on-one session. You might be wondering: How is that possible? The answer is vague. The movie simply demands us to accept the fact that Tsui can read her patient’s mind by entering into his or her subconscious. It is what it is because whatever logic you try to make out of it is essentially tossed out of the window. In one of the earlier scenes of the movie, Tsui enters the mind of her patient (Jennifer Yu), and from there, we see how the patient suffers from her own traumatic experience while Tsui is in her subconscious as an observer.

One day, the police, led by Ho (Philip Keung), seek Tsui’s expertise to find out whether the killer (Justin Cheung) is mentally troubled. The killer in question is Chu, a social worker who murdered his three family members before attempting suicide, only to end up in the hospital with bruises instead. Apparently, Chu has visited different psychiatrists, and the last one turns out to be Dr. Yan (Tse Kwan-Ho), a psychiatrist who recently had a talk session with Tsui. Tsui believes Yan has something to do with how he abetted him in the murder. Chu isn’t the only patient that falls under the influence of sorts from Yan’s psychological evaluation, which in turn, leads Ho to reluctantly agrees to investigate the case with the help of Tsui.

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‘Shadows’ opens promisingly with a murder scene that quickly establishes the movie’s bleak and atmospheric tone from the get-go. The subsequent introduction of Stephy Tang’s Tsui treating her patient in her office unorthodoxly may have been preposterous. But the movie deserves mention for the moody visual transition from the one-on-one therapy session to exploring the patient’s subconscious filled with dream-like state and fragmented memories.

Then, there’s Stephy Tang, who delivers a committed performance as Tsui, and Philip Keung ably back her. The latter pulls off a solid supporting turn as a quick-tempered, cynical police detective. Tse Kwan-Ho shows up as the sneaky and enigmatic veteran psychiatrist who may or may not be directly involved in the instigation of causing his patients to commit murder. Despite appearing only in small roles, Jennifer Yu, Babyjohn Choi, and Ling Man-Lung made the best use of their otherwise limited screen time. The latter two play a schoolteacher and a nurse with respective problems. Apart from the aforementioned opening scene, ‘Shadows’ has a few more gripping moments, including the one that takes place in the hospital and, later, an investigation leading to a nurse’s (Ling Man-Lung) home.

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But the combination of a stellar cast, stylized visuals, and some thrilling set pieces aren’t enough to overcome the movie’s increasingly laborious and not to mention frustrating plot as it goes along. This is especially true with the way the story is told. We are constantly reminded in this movie that ‘humans are selfish’ and, at one point, ‘humans are inherently evil.’ We also see a person is capable of committing a murder, where the motivation has to do with a psychiatrist’s possible instigation and whatnot. The problem is that Singapore-born director Glenn Chan and screenwriters Chang Kai Xiang and Mani Man Pui-Hing are more interested in piling up the psychological aspects of the movie without bothering to delve deep into the foundation behind all the murder acts.

The story is mostly superficial and, at times, too far-fetched for its own good, with one scene revolving around Babyjohn Choi’s schoolteacher character immediately coming to mind. The third act is the biggest culprit of them all. After all the build-up and such, we have an abrupt payoff that feels more like a cop-out than something which makes you go, ‘whoa, why I didn’t expect that?’ Let’s just say it feels incomplete, as if Glenn Chan figures an ambiguous narrative approach would make a good movie. Well, it’s not. Not when a perfunctory movie lacks clarity, and I don’t mean to be spoon-fed.

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It’s a shame, really, because I was expecting a lot from ‘Shadows’ since the movie made its debut three years ago at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival before it finally landed in cinemas in selected countries so far.

SCORE: 5/10

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