USA 2010 Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom Written by: Hossein Amini Produced by: Mike Medavoy, Barry Mendel, Jake Myers Cinematography: Benoit Delhomme Editing: Peter Boyle, Kevin Trent Music: Klaus Badelt Cast: John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yun-Fat, Ken Watanabe, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Rinko Kikuchi, David Morse, Franke Potente, Andy On, Race Wong, Gemma Chan, Dean Alexandrou, Ly Nha Ky, Vu Thu Thuong, Selina Lo
I had forgotten how great Chow Yun Fat looks with a gun, but he more than makes up for the awful CONFUCIUS with SHANGHAI, albeit only having three real action scenes in it.
Shanghai has been the topic of many novels and movies and has always been the subject of western fantasies about China and the East in general. Shanghai has always been romanticized as a liberal place mixing Eastern exotic clichés with Western mentality and style, and I don’t think anything will ever change this image.
SHANGHAI is no different when it comes to portraying the glamour and lightness of being of the metropolis, a melting-pot of artists, criminals, spies and military, but with a strong focus on world politics and WWII SHANGHAI is much more a modern CASABLANCA sequel than just a revue of night club performances and free flow champagne. Set shortly before the Japanese declared war on the United States SHANGHAI is a spy slash war slash crime drama and love story that undeniably transports the story and characters of CASABLANCA into the far East.
Cusack is Bogart, an American spy trying to solve the murder of his friend. Watanabe plays Tanaka the Japanese head of intelligence and de facto ruler of Shanghai who is trying to eliminate the Chinese resistance, led by Anna (Gong Li) who is the wife of triad boss Anthony (Chow) and hence protected like no other. Then there are the Germans and the Americans who also hold a sector of Shanghai each – so by now it shouldn’t be too difficult to see how much SHANGHAI adapts all the main parameters of CASABLANCA. Even more so as Cusack is caught up in a love – or better affair – triangle between a German spy (Franka Potente) and Anna, spicing up the spy saga with romantic overtones.
Writer Amini has paid good attention to the original as he delivers a stunning carbon copy that has it all, except for originality. In view of so many episodic films I appreciate the way the story is meant to draw a large picture until the finale provides a neat finish. Consequently SHANGHAI feels more like a book (adaptation) than a conventional 21st century Hollywood movie with the detailed script unwinding the plot threads step by step and making perfect sense at all times no matter how intertwined the various elements are.
Halstrom makes sure that the mood and tone are right and creates a grand image of the city in the 40’s (shot largely in Bangkok after China revoked the Weinstein’s shooting permit), beautiful but also hazardous, pretty much like, again, CASABLANCA in full color. It’s a city of life and death, but also the place where it all happens, where decisions are made and the course is set for a new future world order. After a rather unimpressive beginning SHANGHAI gets more exciting by the minute, with the ensemble cast being in good form and the story being deep enough to keep us interested. The political and tactical movements of the enemies, the complex personal relationships and the whodunnit plot may neither be new nor surprising, but it all adds up: SHANGHAI never falters, and its grandeur is a real treat. SHANGHAI is a lavish movie and despite it being quite talkative and missing some more bite it is still more solid than all of Scorsese’s disappointing works since (and including) GANGS OF NEW YORK.
It all ends with the beginning of a beautiful friendship as Tanaka – for a good reason – lets Soames and Anna slip through the hands of the Japanese army so they can get on the last ship leaving the city after the Japanese invasion of Shanghai has begun. It couldn’t have been any different I guess, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way than this.
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