When he was just a child, Anton Shaw disappeared, the victim of an apparent kidnapping. He was missing for days until he was found with little memory of where he had been or who had abducted him. He’s haunted by dreams of his mother being taken away from him, her farewell cry of “Adieu,” ringing in his mind.
As an adult, Anton (played by Tony Eusoff) is a private investigator, working in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. He’s not a particularly successful detective. In fact, as the film begins, it seems like he spends more time reading old paperback novels about other detectives than doing any investigating of his own. Even as an adult, he’s haunted by dreams and random flashes of memories, all linking back to the trauma that he suffered as a child.
When Anton is hired to investigate the disappearance of a college student named Lumya (Jurias Hartman), he soon finds himself plunging into the underworld of Kuala Lampur. Everyone from Lumya’s dance instructor to her art teacher seems to have something to hide and, for once, Anton’s problem is not having enough options but instead having too many. Everyone seems as if they may have had something to do with Lumya’s disappearance and the more that Anton digs, the more he finds himself obsessing on his own disappearance. Could these two mysteries somehow be linked?
While Anton investigates, he also reads a book. The book, with is credited to no author and no publisher, appears to be a choose your own adventure-type book from the 1980s and the choices that it asks the reader to make are unmistakably similar to the choices that Anton will have to make to solve not only Lumya’s mystery but his own as well. Does the book hold the answers to Anton’s questions or is both his disappearance and Lumya’s destined to just be another unsolved mystery in a world that’s full of them?
Shadowplay is a wonderfully surreal mystery from director Tony Pietra Arjuna. Tempting as it may be to call Shadowplay a film noir, perhaps a better label would be neon noir. The city of Kula Lampur is definitely one of the stars of the film with, Arjuna capturing the urban landscape with its mix of beauty and danger. The neon of the city glows in each scene, adding a progressively more and more menacing tint to each chapter of Anton’s story. When Anton’s investigation leads him to a bar, Ich bin ein Berliner glows, in purple lettering, from a wall, a reminder that all things will ultimately be commercialized. Towards the end of the film, when Anton meets some very bad people, the neon gives off a red glow that warns us of the blood that will soon be spilled. Throughout it all, the synthpop score (provided by Stellar Dreams) pulses in the background, adding to the film’s dream-like feel.
Shadowplay is a film that keeps you off-balance. It’s a film that keeps you wondering what’s real and what is just a fragment of memory or a figment of imagination. It’s a film that welcomes a second viewing, just so you can pick up on the clues that you might have missed the first time around. In the lead role, Tony Eusoff makes Anton into a sympathetic character and, even as the film grows progressively more surreal, the sincerity of his performance keeps you watching. You want to know what’s going on in his mind. You want to know the answers to his questions and the solutions to his mysteries.
Playing out like a filmed dream, Shadowplay is an existential journey worth taking. It’s played in some theaters and is currently available on VOD. I watched it on Vimeo.