I consider Shadow to be a fine example of artistic cinematography, let me tell you why.
Let’s begin with the “photography” of the movie. First of all it`s inspired by a classical Chinese painting style named 水墨 (water and ink) and this is not something easily replicated in other mediums. Unlike the European painting tradition where artists usually strive to reproduce nature, the Chinese have a different approach. A Chinese painting in the 水墨 stile does not reproduce what is seen but it usually suggests something, what it suggests depends on the painter.
Levels of reading the movie
I. First of all let me state the obvious, the story takes place in the fictional kingdom of Pei after it lost the city of Jingzhou to the kingdom of Yang. That city was an important one for the people of Pei who all wanted to retake it. Commander Ziyu lost that territory during a duel with the leader of the enemy kingdom, Yang Cang. The fight left him severely wounded and he went into hiding. In his place came his “shadow”, trained from a young age to take his place in times of trouble and unknown by all except de commander and his wife. The movie continues to show how the commander begins to scheme in order to retake Jingzhou. He arranges for a new duel to take place but his shadow will fight in his place while an army of convicts will sneak into de city.
II. Chinese philosophical elements are abundant in the movie. We have the Yin-Yang (Taijitu) symbol on the training/duel floors, an I Ching reading is taking place at the beginning (when we find out the general outcome of the events without giving away the actual outcome) and many examples of wisdom that are to be found scattered throughout the movie. Dualism is actually a key word here. First we have the commander and the shadow, then we have the commander and his wife, the shadow and the commander’s wife, the king and his sister, the king’s sister and Yang Ping, Yang Cang’s son.
III. The music goes hand in hand with the “photography” and it plays an important role in times when the director wants to accentuate a particular moment. The clearest example is when Ziyu and his wife, Xiao Ai, play music together on the Yin-Yang training area after Xiao had slept with the Shadow.
All in all there are many aspect still left unmentioned but I leave this up to you, see the movie and discover the missing elements.