AWFJ Presents: ELECTRIC SHADOWS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, female director Xiao Jiang’s 2004 feature debut Electric Shadows is akin to Italy’s 1989’s Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso as it focuses on how a makeshift outdoor theater brings together a village of cinema lovers.

When we first meet film addict Mao (Xia Yu), he is footloose and fancy free. He earns a living by toting water jugs from place to place on his bike. He especially loves action movies, as an image of a Blade Runner poster with Harrison Ford’s face materializes on screen. But by accident, he tumbles into a wall of bricks and is conked on the head with a brick by an angry woman named Ling-Ling (Qi Zhongyang). When she gets arrested, she gives Mao the keys to her apartment and tells him to feed her fish.

But when he walks in, Mao is immersed in elaborate a shrine to 1930s movie siren Zhou Xuan and they realize they are both film addicts. As he decides to read her diary, the film flashes back to Ling-Ling’s mother when she was a young woman who worked in radio. Alas, she gets pregnant after being left adrift by her lover. She befriends Pan, a projectionist, who she eventually marries. Unfortunately, Mao is a victim of domestic violence, the source being his bullying dad.

There is sentimentality to the movie as well as romance. But some of the characters on screen have allowed their sins to pile up. That especially applies to Ling-Ling, who has her darkest days near the end of the film. Mao pays a visit to a mental institution where she resides after losing her hearing. He reveals his identity and gives her a celluloid film strip that he presented to her way back when. Thanks to him, she is eventually reunited with her parents as they watch an old film on the same screen she watched while she was growing up.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.