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|Index||38 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Zhang Yimou directed "Raise the Red Lantern" in 1991. That film saw an
impoverished young woman (Gong Li) forced to marry a nobleman with
multiple wives. Slowly she loses both her mind and humanity, all in the
name of financial necessity.
Yimou's "Shanghai Triad" tells a similar tale. Also starring Gong Li, the film is set in 1930s Shanghai. Here a fourteen year old boy, Shuisheng, is forced to work for Bijou (Gong Li), a woman who is herself forced to work for Tang, a powerful crime lord. But whilst "Lantern" dealt with clear lines of exploitation, "Triad" is much more amorphous. Shuisheng, for example, finds himself beholden to Tang and Bijou, but also willingly gives himself to them. Likewise, Bijou may be a virtual prisoner and sex slave, but she also enjoys the perks of being Tang's mistress, and routinely uses her power to bully anyone she can, including Shuisheng.
"Shanghai Triad" belongs to the "gangster genre", but dodges all the genre's clichés and conventions. It, unusual for the genre, also focuses on women and children; the victims of the gang's hierarchal structure. The film then climaxes with a powerful final act in which Bijou reveals herself to have been working with a rival gang-lord to usurp Tang. Ostracized on remote island, she then meets a peasant child, a girl who will henceforth be groomed by Tang to replace Bijou. With sequences like this, "Triad" evokes the best of Shakespeare, Yimou watching as grand cycles repeat themselves, King's attempting to dethroning kings, and little boys and girls made coarse by violence.
"Shanghai Triad" isn't as good as Yimou's best films, but it boasts a powerful climax and Gongi Li in another touching role (she at times evokes Marlene Dietrichish). Yimou's aesthetic is customarily lush. This was the last of eight collaborations between he and Gong Li, most of which featured her as a victim of all-powerful patriarchal figures.
7.9/10 Worth one viewing.
One certainly cannot criticize the performances in this movie. The
stunning Gong Li was perfectly cast as girlfriend to Boss Tang, who was
himself superbly portrayed by Baotian Li. I thought, however, that Wang
Xiaoxiao stole the show with his performance as Shuisheng, the "third
nephew of the boss's cousin" (or some such convoluted connection.)
Shuisheng is a peasant boy whose suddenly brought to Shanghai by Boss
Tang to serve as servant to Gong Li's character. From that position he
has the chance to see this essentially gangster family in action, and
it's interesting to watch the loyalty he begins to develop for his new
Performances aside, however, I have to say that there wasn't much about the story that was particularly noteworthy. It appears that the mob is the mob, whether it's an American Mafia family or this Chinese gangster family. The movie does have Gong Li performing some nice song and dance numbers while looking absolutely beautiful, but that can only carry a largely mundane (by mob standards) story so far. Overall, I can't see myself going higher than 5/10 on this one.
Shanghai Triad has an interesting MO. It is really a socio-historical
commentary masquerading as a coming of age story masquerading as a
Yimou makes bold storytelling choices - using the servant boy of a gang lord's mistress as the unlikely protagonist - shifting the setting of the film suddenly from bustling urban Shanghai to the peaceful Chinese Countryside.
The risk taking pays off - it is what separates Triad from generic Hollywood tripe.
Rather than some sort of high-handed morality play or costume melodrama, Yimou uses the story to illustrate the corruption of innocence, shifting loyalties and the endless struggle for power and dominance.
Yimou purposely subverts our expectations of the genre picture by denying any form of release - any false catharsis/closure.
The protagonist/viewer can only watch helplessly from the sidelines as the cycle of violence and exploitation continues.
This device will prove undoubtedly frustrating to a Hollywood Audience and I commend him for it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*
Interesting, entertaining crime drama set in the wild days of China's very
own "sin city." Hence there's plenty of raucous nightclubs, chorus lines,
Chinese gangsters, packed dancefloors and assorted inequities for every
With this backdrop, a young, orphaned moppet from the countryside arrives, and is put to work by his distant family.
The story, directed by Zhang Yimou, is woven skillfully to encompass the many sides of its characters. A veritable tapestry of rich characterizations come forth. Of course, the darker side of organized crime, away from the spectacular show numbers and bounding bonvivant feeling, we are shown in gritty detail. For example, the seedy, suffocating quality of life that has become, in essence, living death for a gangster's moll. The country boy, in a strange way becomes her sounding board. The two finds themselves so desperately out of control of their lives, they exude anguish.
In summation, the film is visually sumptuous, the performances are rather good (although a notable few are wooden) and the story line is clever. Recommended.
I had hopes for it, and it opened beautifully. It promised introspection, scope, meaning, and a bit of beauty, yet the first three were still-born, and the last ruined by triteness. But, the expected revelation in this movie never came. And in the mean time, Gong Li was incredibly annoying the entire film, due to her successfully acting the part of the spoiled singer flirt. I used to enjoy watching her, but after this torture, not any more. Why see this, when you can see Temptress Moon, which was richly embroidered with meaning, and did have scope, and it not only met, but exceeded propounded expectations? Sadly, Shanghai Triad has a superior video cassette box, since it is a film of superior marketing, but drastically inferior plot, scope, characters and quality.
First of all, I'm a huge fan of Gong Li.
"Shanghai Triad" one of my favourites out of her movies. 'Favourite' in my definition applies only when I want to watch a film again and again and liking it more everytime I watch it.
"Shanghai Triad" is a beautiful movie, with a clever plot developed within the time frame of a mere seven days. The depth of character also adds to the brilliance of the film. The character of "Xiao Jingbao" (sometimes translated as "Bijou") played by Gong Li at first seems shallow, as she is a chanteuse and moll of a powerful gangster. As her character develops, one recognises that underneath her materialistic values imposed upon her by society, lies a very pure nature. The discovery of the depth of her characterisation is especially moving, and propels towards an emotional climax, during which tragedy arouses sympathy and anguish.
The little boy in the movie is also noted for his excellent performance. He silently dominates the atmosphere of the film, looking on without speech, but secretly and strongly decided in the mind. He acts as the eye through which we see the world in the movie.
Apart from all the technical approval and standardised appraisal of the movie, I have to add I also loved Gong Li's singing in the movie. Yes, it was actually her singing! Her singing is just as beautiful as herself and her performances. Watch her dance and sing elegantly on stage, not one moment has she been not charming in the movie.
On the director's part, this is a very different film from all other previous Zhang Yimou films. But like all his other films, the story is meaningful and the cinematography is breath-taking.
Some more little background facts about the movie: during the making of the film, neither Gong Li nor director Zhang Yimou was in particularly good mood. And that was because, if you know about Gong Li and Zhang Yimou's relationship before, they broke up. Reason? Well, in short, Zhang Yimou's a workaholic, and Gong Li like any other woman, wanted security and family which he was unable to give. And interestingly, and sarcastically (in our point of view), there was a scene in the movie where Gong Li was chatting with the woman peasant. The peasant thought Gong Li was already married, but she said no. With surprise, the peasant said by this age she should be getting married. Gong Li said "Yes, I should be getting married. But do I know who to get married to?"
Of course Gong Li is married now, to a Singaporean business man.
Getting back to the movie, it's just a classic. It's visually absorbing, narratively ingenius, audibly satisfising, emotionally powerful, and just speechlessly amazing. If one can love a movie, I love this movie.
In "Shanghai Triad", Yi-Mou Zhang trains his lens on a gangster's girlfriend and her young servant boy as the mob lurks in the background doing what mobs do. A character study which focuses on Li Gong's wonderful portrayal of a kept woman whose singing and beauty took her from peasant life to wealthy emptiness, there's little story to be found as the film moves serenely from cabaret song and dance numbers to pastoral scenic beauty. Those who appreciate the Chinese culture will enjoy this lyric and beautiful film the most. For many westerners, however, there will not enough of a story arc to make for a satisfying watch. (B)
I would recommend this film just for its superb photography - except that it also happens to be a lavish, well-plotted gangster film. The mobsters are every bit as nasty as those in "The Godfather", with the (tasteful?) difference that the violence is always off-stage - though only just, at times. This is not a matter of squeamishness : most of the film is seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, a reluctant 'witness' (well, he's usually on the other side of the door) to the various plots, sub-plots and counter-plots. On second thoughts, the gangster boss here is NASTIER than anything in the Godfather. That point doesn't immediately sink in, because the film is so BEAUTIFUL, a real feast for the eyes, and because the final twist in the story - in my case, anyway - has a delayed impact. It's one of those films you need to see again, armed with the knowledge of how it is going to turn out - like "The Usual Suspects". If this is how Chinese cinema is developing, we shall be seeing - and welcoming - more of this stunning fare.
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