While somewhat confusing prior to seeing the film, it makes sense that The Knight of Shadows Blu-ray release has two contrasting characters portrayed on the cover. Along with Jackie Chan smiling in a white outfit, Ethan Juan is scowling in all black, representing the two sides of this film. Chan’s character provides most of the lighthearted humor and slapstick action, while Juan takes up the melodramatic role of tragic hero. Unfortunately, this mash-up is often as poorly planned and as jarringly inconsistent as the cover art for the Blu-ray.
Even if the home entertainment release seems content to capitalize on the fame of these two stars, The Knight of Shadows actually has a frame a reference for anyone who has been watching wuxia films in recent years. The heavy melodrama mixed with bad CGI and heavily fantasy-driven narratives are nothing new, though most of those didn’t try and cram in an overwhelming amount of humor as well.
Opening with a prologue that explains the magical power of brush that can remove demons from this world, we watch demon hunter Pu Songling (Chan) capturing a sea monster with the help of his gentle demon helpers. Having made a life out of hunting demons, he also writes their stories to sell for a living in a local village. It is an idyllic existence, relatively speaking, until a pair of demons begins causing trouble in town. When one of the law enforcement officers (Austin Lin) investigating the crimes committed by the demons discovers the truth, he begs Songling to take him on as an apprentice.
Songling sets out to stop the demons in town, along with his new and old assistants, but they soon cross paths with a mysterious man named Ning Cai Cheng (Juan), who seems to be both hunting and protecting a demon named Xiao Qian (Elane Zhong). When they discover the truth about the demon, they find a predictably tragic and melancholy love story at the center of the conflict. This usually seems to be the case.
While I never expected Jackie Chan to continue making action films in which he does his own stunts, it is somewhat disheartening to see the martial arts legend in a film with such a preoccupation with CGI. The entire climactic sequence seems to have been created in a computer, missing any real human touch. It feels more like a computer game cutaway scene than a movie, and Chan is only vaguely recognizable due to the shortcomings of bad digital effects.
It isn’t that The Knight of Shadows is a particularly bad film, but it also comes nowhere close to being a good movie. It is indicative of most films coming out of the Chinese film industry lately, which seems to be a model mirroring Hollywood. These films don’t need to be great, as long as they are sellable to the widest audience possible. And with the combination of humor, heart, and action into one film, this appears to be the primary purpose, somewhere slightly ahead of entertainment.
The Blu-ray release of The Knight of Shadows is devoid of any real special features, beyond the pathetic additional of English-language dubbing and a trailer. However, I would recommend watching this film on Blu-ray rather than DVD, if only for the slight improvement on the visual look. Especially for a film with such a heavy-handed use of digital effects.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 1/10