I love films that mix American and Asian actors together. This is, more importantly, a throwback to the noirish days of old. Shanghai compels the viewer to pay attention in order to piece together a jumble of unclear relationships and alliances. Instead of a movie about politics and war, it’s more about human relations and the different side to people. How people are used and mislead at times like this, and matters of the heart play an important role in the decisions the characters make. Gong Li is great in “Shanghai”, she radiates beauty and charm, and yet at the same time her extraordinary elegance seems to be begging for pity and mercy.
A few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, these four characters in the Japanese occupied city of Shanghai come together to concoct a dangerous tale of government secrets and forbidden love. Sounds like your typical period piece with gunfights, grand sets and predictable plot developments of double crossings? Yes, it is. Chow Yun Fat is equally as good. Ken Watanabe – a good performance though he really needs to work more on making his accent understandable as I still have a little trouble with him, but nevertheless makes a good icy character. John Cusack is a great choice for the main role, and he delivers his part impeccably. Being a secret agent, he is deeply sensitive and sensible man, who wants to reveal some mysteries and he is right in the whirlwind of a war craze.
Considering the cinematography, special effects and staging challenges that brings us back in time to the days preceding Pearl Harbor and in Shanghai of all places, and considering also the cast, if you have cinematic knowledge, it is almost incredible that this film was made at all and more so for a mere $50M budget. I was disappointed in a way since the movie didn’t go the direction I wanted it to go, which isn’t anything against this film but my own wants. Mainly because almost all the screen-time is on John Cusack despite it having well known Asian actors. The plotting’s twists toward in the last half hour is where the film kind of skids since its connection to Pearl Harbor, and some character motivation, is a bit too much to ask.
Shanghai is unfortunately the kind of movie that I rarely watch, the low key spy thriller. But, I am glad I gave this one a spin. Shanghai is a modern film noire, and for me a refreshing addition to the genre. Highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t need high octane explosions all the time to like a movie. Admittedly, this film didn’t quite make the masterpiece mark but it did enough to make a colorful historical backdrop for a fairly routine story line. What really made this movie successful was actor performance and there are plenty of top class actors in it to make it really worthwhile. All in all, this is a film that will appeal to audiences on both side of the globe and one well worth your time.