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1998 | 1997

1 item from 1997

Film review: War of the Worldly

7 October 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Nine diverse characters brace for imminent Japanese attack in Durniok's 'Hotel Shanghai'

It's in the grand old "Grand Hotel" tradition and style, this epic entertainment from German producer Manfred Durniok, who is best known in the United States as the producer of the foreign-language Oscar winner "Mephisto".

Based on the book by Vicki Baum, "Hotel Shanghai" is a grand-scale entertainment set against the cataclysm of an impending war and peopled by a vast array of colorful international travelers. Admittedly, it's a bit old-fashioned in form and structure, but it's a decidedly juicy and intelligent evocation of a disjointed time and a dangerous place.

Edited into two forms -- Trident will release a 101-minute version in the States, while German TV will play a two-part, 178-minute miniseries -- "Hotel Shanghai" is an intriguing pastiche of one of China's most rough-and-tumble cities, certainly a locale not familiar to the eyes of Westerners. It was filmed entirely in Shanghai and, as such, takes us to heretofore forbidden film terrain. A co-production of Durniok, MDR German TV and Oriental Communications with the assistance of the Shanghai Film Studio, this production is perhaps most noteworthy for the international partnerships that producer Durniok has forged. In a most unusual coup, Durniok was allowed to do postproduction in his native land rather than in China, a wish not usually granted to foreign film producers.

Set in 1937, "Hotel Shanghai" is a billowing mixture of intrigue, passion, duplicity and heroism. It's set on the precipice of war: The Japanese attack is imminent, and the city is bracing for a bloody invasion.

In this sharp but sprawling pastiche, screenwriter Angel Wagenstein has sagely distilled Baum's novel to understandable, filmic dimension, focusing on nine diverse characters whose lives and fates are inextricably bound by the charged conditions of the imminent invasion. It's a lively mix of the super-rich and the world weary.

The performances are distinguished and nicely fleshed. In particular, Agnieszka Wagner ("Schindler's List") is radiantly strong-willed as a young woman caught up in a sticky love triangle, while Elliott Gould, as a seen-it-all vagabond, brings a welcomely jaded sensibility to the goings-on. Unfortunately, the dialogue is often thick and perfunctory.

Director Peter Patzak has fashioned a roiling entertainment, nicely transposing this sprawling story to a tight, filmic dimension. Technically, it's marvelous with its teeming visuals and captivating marches through old Shanghai. Highest praise to cinematographer Martin Stingl for the panoramic scopings, and particular praise to art director Qin Baisong for evoking the passions and terrors of the times.


Trident Releasing

A Manfred Durniok film

Credits: Producer: Manfred Durniok; Director: Peter Patzak; Screenwriter: Angel Wagenstein; Based on the book by: Vicki Baum; Director of photography: Martin Stingl; Editors: Sylvia Hebel, Roberto Silvi; Music: Christian Bruhn; Art director: Qin Baisong. Cast: Madame Tissaud: Annie Giradot; Frank Taylor: James McCaffrey; Hutchinson: Elliott Gould; Helen Russell: Agnieszka Wagner; Bobbie Russell: Nicholas Clay; Sir Kingsdale-Smith: Patrick Ryecart; Kurt Planke: Robert Giggenbach; Ruth Anderson: Micah Taylor West; Pearl Chang: Min Zhang. Color; Running time: 101 minutes; no MPAA rating.


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1998 | 1997

1 item from 1997

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