Needs Fewer Shadows

“Help me up. My poor bones!” is Jackie Chan speaking truth in Knight of Shadows. Where Chan used to acrobatically right himself, at 65, those falls hurt him more than most.

It’s pleasant then to see Chan surrounded by visual effects and strung along on wires. Things look safer this way. Chan earned a reprieve. In the early going, Knight of Shadows has energy too, a childish fantasy about busting ghosts in ancient China, led by Chan’s experienced demon hunter character.

The morals fit. Those who fall for vain habits turn evil, seducing others to join them. Those looking for something other than self succeed. Kids can get that, and with goofy cartoon spirits acting like sidekicks, Knight of Shadows finds its comfort zone. Then it keeps going.

Knight of Shadows stumbles toward two hours, letting go of fart jokes and offbeat encounters. Soon, the plot turns to romance, and while not without enthusiasm for the younger set, the entire movie turns dark, even seedy in tone.

Knight of Shadows is determined to produce western-style bloat

In the opening scene, Chan floats along the ocean, chasing a villainous fish without reality weighing things down. Cut to Chan excitedly telling this story to schoolkids; it’s as if he’s speaking directly to the target audience. Sloppy and haphazard as Knight of Shadows often is, the delivery is what counts. The energy in this first act is endless, splashed with color and brightness. Writing off lower-scale visual effects is easy when part of the fantasy, steeped in Chinese lore.

The effort broadens though, bringing in other characters, seducing women, and even casually dropping a bizarre rape joke. Soon, demons sport glowing red eyes and flying through netherworlds. Surreal and distinct in its import quality, soiled and disengaged from its potential.

With sheer exuberance, Knight of Shadows will likely find a fanbase. Certainly, this isn’t Bleeding Steel, the obnoxious Chan outing from 2018 that knew even less about what it wanted to be. Chan’s work at this stage depicts a definite national pride, whether in history, filmmaking technique, or theme. Knight of Shadows is determined to produce western-style bloat to bring people toward this lore. It works in patches, brisk in comedy (Chan sliced in two, head trapped in a mirror, legs wildly kicking is a win) but soon loses its way while driving to a predictable finale. Copious CG cannot hide the clumsy closing chapter.


Things start positively. Contrast is aplenty, color is attractive, and digital cinematography looks clear. Some uneasiness around visual effects and their smoothing aside, the presentation looks great.

Then it doesn’t. Soon, noise begins to intrude. Well Go’s encode is insufficient at keeping up, bringing gobs of blocking into the frame. A key recurring element concerns a collection of calligraphy paper swirling about. That brings things down to a DVD-tier when those papers appear – and they do so often.

Effects keep things smothered and smooth. Detail never jumps forward, lost in this smeary aesthetic. Even at Knight of Shadows’ peak, definition barely appeases the HD-attuned viewer. Black levels hit a passable level, and when paired with consistent contrast, manage to draw some depth. Along with color, those elements help.


Intense volume seeks to match western productions, then goes overboard. Prepare to lower things a few notches, but don’t let that take away from a wildly active, powerful DTS-HD track (both Mandarin and English dub included). This mix is a monster, in perpetual motion throughout the soundstage. Action sways speaker to speaker, with no fear in transitioning between channels. Paper scattering, active marketplaces, dizzying magic, and precise effects never miss.

LFE joins in without any care, rumbling with fantastic force at the outset as waves crash. Later there’s a snake that destroys a building, and each hit sucks air from the room. Range reaches ridiculously pure depths, never shy about digging in. Sensational mixing.


Just some trailers.

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The Knight of Shadows
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While breezy and cheerful in the early going, Knight of Shadows drifts from its family-film identity into a dark afterlife romance.

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