An American man returns to a corrupt, Japanese-occupied Shanghai four months before Pearl Harbor and discovers his friend has been killed. While he unravels the mysteries of the death, he falls in love and discovers a much larger secret that could’ve changed the course of human history. (IMDB)
I really hate watching period dramas/films not in their original language. It removes from the authentic feel of the movie. Gong Li, Chow Yun Fat, and Ken Watanabe were speaking the kind of English that Chinese and Japanese people during that time would never have spoken. I’m not saying that their English couldn’t have been perfect (as it very well could have been though highly unlikely), but they were speaking a formal and proper kind of English with a syntax I can imagine being unique to upper-class English (now) or Americans (back in that period) - not even normal, everyday English that native speakers would use. Hence the unnatural feel of the dialogue, at least for me. I can get very nitpicky about these details. However, Shanghai redeemed itself by having a very sound conclusion (sounds unconvincing, but come on, how often is it that a movie’s ending satisfies you in terms of being realistic or resolved?). And usually, in WWII dramas, the Japanese are always portrayed as evil butchers (think Pearl Harbour, Lust Caution); in this film, however, I think a fairer picture was painted. Although there were still violent deaths-by-bayonet and war atrocities, there was also honour, respect, and humanity piercing through that image.
1. There were a few similarities between this film and Ang Lee’s ‘Lust, Caution (2007)’, which I remember seeing with Anna in our room in Rennes (France) back in 2008.
2. Rinko Kikuchi (who played Sumiko) seemed to be such a promising beauty in ‘Shanghai’, until I googled her and found out she now sports a bowlcut and is otherwise blonde.
3. The movie was written by Academy Award Nominee Hossein Amini, an Iranian scriptwriter - the same guy behind the hit “Drive” (2011), which I saw last November with Alex, Kuba, Juan, Gemma, June, and Felipe.
4. I’m perplexed by the lack of hype and publicity for the movie. Nobody seems to have said much about it (not the press, critics, whatever) despite its star-studded cast. I felt John Cusack was hard pressed to hold a candle to supercelebrities Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, and Chow Yun Fat (powerful acting, riveting screen presence… deserving of their pan-continental stardom). And to think they had to act under unideal conditions (the script was in a second language). Ken Watanabe and Gong Li, especially, I could literally not take my eyes off.
5. Whilst on the topic, the Weinstein Organization was supposedly hesitant to release the film in the West. From Unseenfilms.com: “It’s ultimately that they are balking at the fact that most people don’t like films with Asians in the lead. It’s sad but true, we in America simply won’t watch Asian films unless they are martial arts flicks or way out horror, and even then the audience for those is limited, since those two genres are looked down upon by many film goers. It’s sad. It really is. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that highlighting Asian films of note has been one of the driving forces behind it.”
6. Director Mikael Håfström went on to direct “The Rite” (2011) starring Anthony Hopkins. I remember my Catholic university encouraging us to watch this, even holding a premier attended by the exorcism practitioners in the Philippines.