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Tracing Shadow
Tracing Shadow     Tracing Shadow

(left) Francis Ng, and (right) Xia Na and Jaycee Chan in Tracing Shadow.
Chinese: 追影  
Year: 2009  
  Director: Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Marco Mak Chi-Sin
Action: Ma Yuk-Sing  
  Cast: Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Pace Wu (Ng Pui-Chi), Jaycee Chan, Xie Na, Dang Haohan
  The Skinny: Tracing Shadow provides OK action, mild comedy and Francis Ng, which is probably enough to warrant a look from his fan base. Mileage will vary for everyone else, though the legion of Chinese actor lookalikes is an unexpected detail. Amusing but far from essential.
by Kozo:

Hong Kong Cinema takes another hit with the Francis Ng and Marco Mak co-directed film Tracing Shadow. However, it’s not the quality of the production that raises the alarm, but the film’s Hong Kong release, which was an unceremonious home video berth and little-to-no theatrical play. The film did play in China, and some Francis Ng vehicles have previously received direct-to-video releases in Hong Kong (The Curse of Lola and Karmic Mahjong among them). However, Tracing Shadow is produced by supposed entertainment juggernaut EEG, features decent names (Ng and also Jaycee Chan), and even belongs to a seemingly viable genre, the comedy wuxia. And yet someone – exhibitors or the studios – apparently thought so little of Tracing Shadow that they wouldn’t even nominally release the thing. Are times for Hong Kong movies really that bad?

Probably, though it’s not really the fault of Tracing Shadow, which is an occasionally amusing if forgettable trifle. Francis Ng is the nominal lead, but the film is more of an ensemble piece than a real star vehicle. Ng plays Chang, an expert swordsman who’s so good that he doesn’t need the glory that comes with his skills. In the opening moments, he makes a connection with Xin (Pace Wu of Marriage with a Fool), a ninja out to steal a royal treasure map from the Emperor. She’s competing for the map with three thieves but they’re only able to learn that the treasure is buried nearby before the map is lost. Flash forward a few years and everyone is still hanging around in the frontier town that’s sprung up near the treasure’s rumored resting place. Chang and Xin run an inn along with their adopted daughter Xiaowei (mainland entertainment personality Xie Na), while the three thieves run crappy businesses. When there’s time, the thieves and Xin hunt for the treasure while Chang lurks in the background, keeping the peace and/or acting supremely cool.

The premise for Tracing Shadow resembles many other films, from its inn-set action that recalls old King Hu to its hunt for treasure, which hews closer to Indiana Jones. However, Tracing Shadow is more of a typical Hong Kong comedy wuxia than anything else, presenting the expected labored shtick and some decent martial arts action. Some subdued satire gives the film minor novelty; there are small nods to Hong Kong life – something that Francis Ng and Marco Mak did heavily in their previous Dancing Lion - but the filmmakers seem to get most of their jollies from their parade of superstar lookalikes. The three thieves are played by ringers for Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Andy Lau, with each doing a fine job of aping the superstars’ appearance and mannerisms. The film also possesses doppelgangers for a bunch of other Hong Kong film luminaries, with the point of all the parodies seemingly being that the lookalikes exist somewhere.

The high point of the ringer parade: when the Jackie Chan lookalike meets local rich kid Lord Xu, played by real Jackie Chan offspring Jaycee Chan. The self-referential humor adds yet another layer to Tracing Shadow’s amusement pińata, though the point of the whole thing is still hard to fathom. Then again, that’s business as usual for Francis Ng, whose sense of humor has always been a bit off. Ng’s idea of humor is subdued and nearly esoteric; sometimes it may take an extra split-second to process Ng’s jokes, and if you don’t get them at all he probably doesn’t really care. That laissez-faire attitude is refreshing in that it sidesteps the crass humor that usually populates comedy wuxias. The negative: the film possesses little that’s out-and-out hilarious, providing humor for a few chuckles but little else. The acting is notable mostly for its inconsistency. Pace Wu is serviceable as the female lead, but Xie Na mugs up an annoying mini-storm as the maiden of the piece. Her character has a minor romance going with Lord Xu, which is a subplot that could induce sleep. Not much in the film really convinces the audience that they should care, but the Xie Na/Jaycee Chan romance accomplishes even less than that.

On the plus side, Jaycee Chan turns in a surprisingly effective comic turn, and Francis Ng is always worth watching. This is especially true when Ng avoids overacting and goes for underplayed emotion. He manages to do just that with his honorable jiang hu warrior, essaying a character that could have been a narcissistic star-director avatar but turns out not to be. Ng also manages his martial arts decently, with Ma Yuk-Sing’s editing-assisted wirework and choreography proving diverting. Despite its inconsistent humor, Tracing Shadow manages to feel more quality than rushed or cheaper attempts at this genre (e.g., On His Majesty’s Secret Service). The film even attempts a positive message, fitting the light social commentary of Ng’s other works. Overall, there’s stuff in Tracing Shadow that’s worth liking – though those positives don’t make this a truly compelling or necessary film. It’s ultimately not surprising that The Powers That Be chose to bypass a probably unsuccessful theatrical release. We could choose to view the film even more poorly because it couldn’t get multiplex play, but that would be unfair. Frankly, Tracing Shadow’s quiet home video release is more of a knock on the unsupportive Hong Kong audience than the film itself. (Kozo 2009)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Joy Sales
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various extras

image credits: Emperor Entertainment Group Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen