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. Written by
This is a fascinating movie in many ways, not least for its partially successful elucidation of a particularly dark period in Shanghai's colourful history. However, "Shanghai" comes across all too often as a confused mish-mash of other movies - Casablanca and The Third Man both spring rather too readily to mind - while offering little of its own in the way of an original plot or any intriguing character arcs.
Solid acting work all 'round. Franka Potente is probably the most watchable of the actors here, despite being less toothsome than Gong Li (who looks every bit her age in this movie but is still ravishingly attractive).
There are a few intriguing glimpses of Shanghai as it might have been in the early 40s, including one particularly well-recreated crane shot of the Bund - although I have to say the ships look just a tad too close to the imposing British-built buildings lining that famous boulevard. There's another shot from inside the Cusack character's hotel room showing a few of Shanghai's classic buildings through the window, clearly digitally composited as those particular buildings could never have been viewed that way from the one vantage point.
However, it seems (judging from the credits) that the vast majority of this movie was shot in Thailand, and thus most of the street scenes and interiors are fairly generic and not particularly evocative of Shanghai's history. For a much better rendition of this you need to have a look at Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" which treads similar territory (Shanghai, spies, Japanese occupation etc) with much more style.
Indeed I find myself wondering why this movie was made at all, given that pretty much 100% of its thematic territory had been covered by Lee's movie just a couple of years before, and with considerably more chutzpah.
Nevertheless...if you're a fan of any of these actors, it's worth a look.
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