Set in what appears to be a dystopian, and possibly post-apocalyptic America, Shadow Master opens with a SWAT team walking in on a martial arts battle in what looks like a hospital turned into a slaughterhouse complete with hooks and chains.
They arrest the only person still alive. Back at the station Detective Russells (Layton Matthews, Fast Vengeance, Necromentia) begins interrogating the suspect. He claims to be John Doe, although we’ll later find out his mane is actually An Voaen (D.Y. Sao, Everything Everywhere All at Once, War Machine), the hospital’s night watchman. A job that paid him with food and a place to live.
The hospital is actually abandoned, and judging by its occupants such as the Harley Quinn wannabe Dewitt (Anna Harr, Hot Seat, Meteor Moon) and her mother (Dominique Swain, 4 Horsemen: Apocalypse, Minutes to Midnight) might have been an asylum. The group’s leader Boon-Nam (Craig Ng, Exorcism at 60,000 Feet, Big Trouble in Little China) tells him that there have been issues with children disappearing in the night, apparently taken by ghosts.
Don’t be fooled by the mention of Prachya Pinkaew, director of Ong Bak, Chocolate, and The Protector among others in the film’s publicity. He was just one of Shadow Master’s several producers. The film was actually written and directed by Pearry Reginald Teo (The Gene Generation, The Assent).
He opens the film with a first act that has its moments but is extremely jumbled, cutting back and forth between the hospital, the police station, and flashbacks to An’s own criminal past. Similarly, the plot itself draws in Mephisto, The Four Horsemen, The Monkey King, and Hungry Ghost Month, and, after An is killed and revived, The Crow.
None of this makes any real sense though it does have a sort of internal logic, it’s the logic of the nightmares you get when you’re sick and running a fever. So An making a deal with the Death God Hanuman, played by Teo, doesn’t seem overly strange by the time it happens. The same with the Four Horsemen who look more like very low-budget Cenobites or extras from a GWAR concert than anything from the bible or from pro wrestling. They just sort of fit into the look of Shadow Master’s world.
The main reason to watch Shadow Master is the fight scenes and we do get plenty of them. Sao is a talented fighter and stuntman who puts on quite a show with moves pulled from various styles including bokator from his native Cambodia. They’re presented in a style that fans of Tomy Jaa’s early films will recognize, even if they lack Pinkaew’s mastery. The brawls get progressively more bloody as the film goes on, which should help satisfy horror fans.
Unfortunately, even by low-budget action standards, he’s not much of an actor. Sao delivers his lines in a monotone that’s supposed to sound world-weary but actually makes him sound like he’s bored. Actually, much of the cast underplays their roles, and it’s fun when one cuts loose, screaming at An, “You dare to accuse me based on smell?”.
If you’re looking for a horror film, Shadow Master will probably disappoint you. The film’s various supernatural elements aren’t really frightening and they don’t amount to much. It’s treated as a novelty and an excuse to throw in some extra effects and costumes. You could change the Four Horsemen and their ritual to human traffickers without too much effort.
While it could have been a lot better, Shadow Master is a lot more entertaining than I expected anything from the director of The Gene Generation to be. If you avoid paying to much attention to the details and enjoy the fights, or maybe take some edibles and pay attention to the details, it’s an OK way to kill ninety minutes.
Saban Films released Shadow Master to select theaters on November 4th and to VOD and Digital platforms on the 8th.