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The cinematography is excellent and successfully recreates the feel of 40's Shanghai, along with the a secretive atmosphere that enhances the film noir mood. The story moves at a good pace where there isn't a scene too many and you have to keep your mind working to uncover the mysteries Paul Soames is trying to solve.
The excellent cast doesn't disappoint, John Cusack is solid and believable as an agent posing as a journalist. It's not hard to understand he would fall for the insanely beautiful Gong Li who seems to have found a fountain of youth somewhere. She plays the role of Anna Lan-Ting with a seductive and secretive flavor which is a joy to watch. Her husband, mob boss Anthony Lan-Ting, is being played by Hong Kong icon Chow Yun Fat who exudes charm and power but still manages to walk the fine line of a character you feel attracted to but also know you should actually stay away from. His performance adds the right amount of flair the production needs. Ken Watanabe plays out his sinister vibe along with a human grace perfectly and Jeffrey dean Morgan is believable as the friend who ended up dead.
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.
If you are open to a movie that makes you think and wonder, you will definitely love 'Shanghai'.
The only thing that I did not get into was the romance-angle between John Cusack and Gong Li.... but maybe that's how it's meant to be. It's easy to see why he would fall for her but she, on the other hand, might have a whole different agenda.
This espionage/war film gets your attention. The plot is not too complicated, has a nice pace, good performances and an international cast. John Cusack is decent in this role, Gong Li is gorgeous as ever and her English seems to have improved. She captures the screen with her grace and beauty, but also a believable performance. 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.
The last act creates the suspense very well, though I'll have to admit, though I found the ending dramatic and decent, it might have been more interesting if they actually filmed what happened instead of doing the voice-over, but hey I guess budget constraints and time can get in the way, so I'm alright with it I suppose.
This is a visual feast. It is good to see many actors of different nationalities blend in for what is a cross country story. Japan/China/Germany. Franka Potente has a role here too, which I enjoyed as well.
The only problem with the film, though it wasn't it's fault, was that the version I watched did not have English subtitles when they were talking in Chinese. At first, I thought that this was part of the movie, as you weren't meant to understand it, but there are important scenes near the end where I had no clue what they were saying. It didn't mean I didn't get the rest of the plot or what was happening, but that could have given me a bit more to work with and more juice as well. Oh well, it's not their fault.
This is an enjoyable movie, and it captures that sense of mystery, mistrust, betrayal and fear that you experience during an espionage/war film. Though this isn't essentially a war film in that it's main focus is about blowing up people etc, it is about the struggle of invasion and the effects of it. Recommended.
I hope it gets a wider release in the US and here in Australia because it is a good film.
Granted, the script by Hossein Amini has mostly nothing new apart from the noirish elements from those other classic noir films. It's an old- fashioned American murder mystery, but set in the Far East. Familiar plot revelations take place as our hero weaves his way through a web of lies, deceit/deception, betrayal, romance, murder, corruption, and in this film's case, war. What stood out in the film's screenplay is the number of languages used in the film: English, Japanese and Chinese, although I wished the latter two were featured more prominently than they were in the final film. And I have to admit, although unoriginal, the twists in the movie are intriguing and kept my attention.
The international actors are great and fit into their roles like tailor- made suits. John Cusack as the protagonist gives off his Bogie-like character a subtle and calm performance that is also charming. Gong Li, beautiful as ever, is the main dame of the film and she has that sultry, mysterious look in her eyes that you can't take your eyes off of her. Chow Yun-Fat, finally in a role worth watching him in, is the mob boss who may or may not be on Cusack's character's side, as he adapts an extremely charming yet secretive personality under that face of his. And Ken Watanabe has that sinister vibe in him as the film's primary antagonist, though he exudes a certain class to his villainous character. Fine supporting characters played by interesting actors such as David Morse, Rinko Kikuchi, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Franka Potente round up the very distinguished and diversified cast.
Production value and cinematography are top-notch as they transport you back in time to the glamor and grit of pre-occupied Shanghai, with its well-designed and furbished sets/locations filled with plenty of real extras instead of CG ones for a nice change, and crisp, properly lighted scenes with big and wide camera angles so to appreciate the settings even more. Klaus Badelt scores the film with a proper suspenseful element to it making it feel more at home with the noirish crowd without feeling to overdone, thus also making it easier to evoke emotions in the audience, especially to those who are new to the noir genre. Thanks to Mikael Håfström for his focused direction in bringing the best out of the actors.
This is, more importantly, a throwback to the noirish days of old. This film would be a great starting point for those new to noir, and people who like thrillers should give this nostalgic time capsule a chance.
Entertainment value: 9/10
"Shanghai" is a mesmerising film that successfully recreates the 1940's feel of Shanghai. The film is engaging throughout, with no unnecessary scenes. It is also straightforward and easily understandable, which is a rarity for spy dramas. It is also captivating, as it beautifully captures the stress of people living deceitful lives, not knowing who to trust, without any back up. Even your best friend can be someone entirely different, befriending you only for intelligence.
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. She is rightly cast for her role.
The cast is good. All top notch Asian actors. Chow and Watanabe add stature. Gong Li is alluring if a little older. Cusack is a bit goofy looking but blends in to the scenes well. Heard Johnny Depp was interested probably would have been worse.
The sets are bit too theatrical and lacked a little on location feel.
The story is feel good old fashioned adventure romance and not irritating. Sometimes it was hard to catch some of the dialog and because of that got a bit lost.
Overall worth watching.
Shanghai the film happened to be a somewhat troubled project, with the shoot being blocked just weeks before production was scheduled to begin, then faced with the abandoning of sets and the relocation to Thailand and London, followed by question marks on its release date. Well, it's finally here, and I'd think it was well worth the wait, given no scrimping on its production values, and director Mikael Hafstrom splashing plenty of noir in his approach to tell a tale of spy versus spy set against Shanghai in 1941, where the city has yet to fall to the Japanese, and thus becoming a hotbed for resistance movements, with plenty of foreigners still in country setting up protective enclaves for their own citizens.
While it may be a Hollywood production, the cast was predominantly Asian, assembling some of the largest names in the region for this project. John Cusack plays the lead character Paul Soames, a naval intelligence agent sent to Shanghai to investigate the death of his good friend Connor (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and The Losers fame), whose eyes from which we witness a series of intriguing events unfold, dealing with crossed loyalties and flimsy alliances. Going under the cover of a journalist with pro-Nazi sentiments, he works his charisma and know-how to get to the upper echelons of German society in the city, and from there, linking himself up with the German's new ally, Japan.
For Paul, there's more than meets the eye each step of the way in his investigations, and soon he finds himself on the teeters of discovering something large, with a hint on the sinister plans that might be hidden under the cloak of misinformation. History buffs may know what this will allude to, but for those not in the know, then it's time to read up, and to find out from the plot as it unfolds.
But the story happens to strike a parallel with a heavy examination into human relationships, and how the ties that bind can sometimes hurt, especially during a time where the environment is extremely tensed, and nobody is truly clear of one another's motivation, and deep dark secrets. For local triad leader Anthony Lan-Ting (Chow Yun-Fat), his wife Anna (Gong Li) seems to be there when needed, yet can disappear either to entertain his guests, or do so without qualms when he's in the company of his mistresses. There's always suspicion that she's hiding something and is more than the dainty seductress that she's made out to be, especially when Paul gets enamoured by her charms, and Ken Watanabe's Japanese intelligence officer Tanaka ever keen to break her cover.
Yes, this film looks more like an Asian film, which reunites Hong Kong's Chow Yun-Fat with China's Gong Li again after their collaboration in Zhang Yimou's The Curse of the Golden Flower, and Japanese stars Ken Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi even given a small role. All of them recognizable names, all of them leading their star power to the film and delivering stellar performances mostly, dealing with the double crossing of one another through an intricate web of love and betrayal, and how emotions get the better of Man eventually.
There's no one dimensional character here, with supposed villains surprisingly having a heart when protecting their loved ones against harm, and how everybody will use everything within their power to ensure that family, friends and even strangers stay safe in a time of danger, although not always leading to their desired results. For romantics, Watanabe's Tanaka even opens up in a rare demonstration that he's not always that stoic, but can also be the unwitting victim of the complicated affairs of the heart, which the finale finally assembles all the broken pieces together, and we'd come to appreciate more on what motivates these characters.
The only let down will be Chow's turn as Anthony Lan-Ting the mob boss, as his role, together with Rinko Kikuchi's, is really playing second fiddle to Watanabe in terms of charisma, and screen time compared to what Gong Li occupied here. But this is still one recommended ensemble thriller that has a strong underlying romantic thread, beautifully crafted to highlight the frustrations of love, and that of survival in a black, white and grey world.
The film stars John Cusack as an American spy in 1941 Shanghai. He's arrived from Berlin to meet up with a good friend, whom he soon learns has been murdered in the Japanese sector of the city. As the threat of war becomes less threat and more real Cusack must try and figure out what his friend was working on before it's too late.
Huge sprawling epic that's the sort of things that they don't make any more. This is an action soap opera at it's finest. Its a wonderful popcorn film that undoubtedly looks great on the big screen. Made with an international market in mind it has a great cast with Gong Li, Chow Yun Fat, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Ken Wantanabe all strutting their stuff. Sadly I can't see this becoming a huge hit in the US, not because it isn't good, more because American audiences don't know what to make of films like this.
For the most part this is enjoyable in the way that the wartime films of the 1940's are. They are some what predictable, some times surprising and purely contrived in the plotting. 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.
Its a fun guilty pleasure thats worth a look see. I don't know if you need to pay full price to see it in a theater (then again this is a great looking film, but at the same time if you like this sort of epic drama try it on cable.
As for me I can't wait to see how this plays in English.
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.
As my movie-making friends say, "Nobody starts out to make a bad film, but it happens a lot" This isn't a horrible film, it's just bad. Historically inaccurate with holes in the plot you could drive a Japanese tank through and a cast that just seems to be going through the motions.
The first hour is bearable and then things go all to pot as one unbelievable thing after another fills the screen. Gong Li is the only cast member who does a credible job. This may be the first John Cusack vehicle I haven't liked, to say nothing of Ken Watanabe and Chow Yun Fat.
It's no wonder, it spent 2 years in editing. It boggles the mind to imagine what the editors left out. Definitely not worth leaving the house to see. If you hanker to see one director's idea of what Shanghai looked like in 1941, rent the DVD. Otherwise "fuggedaboutit"!
So, we start with a reasonably believable premise for a thriller: Shanghai in 1941 definitely did have Japanese who were not nice. There definitely were Chinese collaborators who were not nice. There were large gambling establishments and a certain amount of glamour (along with a lot of horrible misery) in Shanghai at the time. Stuff was going on in the run-up to Pearl Harbor and the U.S. was not the entirely innocent, naive, passive bystander that U.S. elementary school textbooks portray. So... a U.S. Naval Intelligence guy undercover in Shanghai in late 1941? Great premise for a fiction movie!
Add a first class Japanese and Chinese cast and a good to excellent American cast. Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat are among the best China (Hong Kong) has to offer and they have done stellar work in other movies. Ken Watanabe is arguably the best living Japanese actor at the moment and was outstanding in "Inception", the "Last Samurai" and dozens of others. John Cusak was excellent in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" Mix in a large amount of effort, opulent sets, tons of money....
AND....somehow end up with a wooden turkey!
I ordered the DVD and we set it up with our projector at home. Primarily, it was my son studying history at the Naval Academy and speaks Japanese - very interested in the subject) and I watching while my Japanese wife dozed off happily on the couch.
The first clue was the subtitles. As a multilingual household we always check the options. We were surprised to find that this was an English language movie...OK...there was a certain logic to that. Should we turn on the English subtitles? Naw... that would be silly. We started the movie. One minute into the action we were stopping the movie to turn on the English subtitles. Why? Ken Watanabe was mumbling and unintelligible.
This wasn't the fault of Ken Watanabe. He did fine job delivering perfectly intelligible and compelling dialog in "Inception". Poor speech intelligibility is the symptom of sloppy production.
Next problem was the wooden script. The constant stopping for the Chinese or Japanese characters to apologize for speaking their own language might be believable for someone who has never actually been in the Far East. Real life is rarely like that. When you are the lone American in a room full of Japanese or Chinese, they are pleasant and polite, but by no means do they stop every 30 seconds to apologize for speaking their own language.
At first I thought that the stiff performances might be the result of forcing otherwise outstanding Japanese and Chinese performers to speak in English. However, as I continued to watch the rest of the movie, I realized that the native English speakers weren't doing much better.
By the end of the movie, the problem was clear: the script writer was desperately trying to scrape together every cliché in the history film noire and somehow stuff it into the movie. Less would have been more.
Ang Lee's "Lust Caution" (based on the semi-autobiographical short story by Eileen Chang) is a much better movie on roughly the same subject. By the way, I has the same reaction as the only other reviewer who wasn't enthusiastic: I thought this movie was "borrowed" from "Lust Caution". However, in poking around at the background, it looks like this one took almost 10 years to get produced...meaning the initial story predated "Lust Caution".
I love the subject material and all the performers...Too bad "Shanghai" wasn't a better movie.
Trying to make out that the most blood thirsty, violent war mongering country in the world was a mere pass-a-by in WW2 is non-sense.
Still, its a detective, romance, rebel uprising set in decadent shanghai makes for the lack of facts. Don't expect a documentary, but it beats watching another of those 999,999 type of American movies about American teenagers in American high school showing how superior America is.
As an Asian movie lover I enjoyed it. It was a brave attempt to recreate that fantastic old Shanghai. It didn't quite do it but did it enough to make a colourful 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. For actors alone it is worth watching and especially that wonderful lady Li Gong who is simply hypnotising.
I watched this in Chinese with English subtitles which I found an interesting change. Japanese is also spoken.
Well worth a watch
Considering the cinematography, special effects and staging challenges that brings us back in time to the days preceding Pearl Harbor and in Shangai of all places (what a backdrop), 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 trust the ratings will only keep going up as more viewers record their own ratings, because it deserves better than just 6.5 as of the time of my review. Most of the movies in which company I included 'Shangai' are admittedly better to equal.
I was looking for something recent featuring Li Gong because she is one of those actors (actress) who has a knack for picking movies that are excellent and in which she plays roles that are demanding; I came across this movie. I read the names of the cast; I'm a fan of most of John Cusack's work, and the same goes for Yun-Fat Chow, David Morse, Ken Watanabe, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Franka Potente. My movie collection includes several movies from each of them. It goes without saying that I liked it and recommend it.
However, the biggest sin of the movie was, believe it or not, the editing. John Cusack is not a fantastic actor, but he is good enough. Ken Watanabe is always good, no matter what kind of movie you cast him in, and all of David Morse, Yun-Fat Chow and Jeffrey Dean Morgan had marginal roles, yet well acted. However the editing of the material was horrendous, to the point where you didn't actually get what the movie was about, who was who and what were they doing. For Western audiences that do not know the history in the region - as myself - would be especially difficult to understand where the plot is going and what are the different factions and what their goals are.
I wanted to like the movie, a detective noir about spies in Shanghai before the Japanese declaration of war and the reasons why Americans might not have found out in time about the Pearl Harbor attack: women! :) but it didn't work out that way. Instead it felt a little bit like another bit of Asian/Cusack melange: Dragon Blade, which was just as epic and just as clumsy a production.
One of the film's strengths are its actors. I haven't seen Cusack in anything for a while, but he's still in great shape and gives a good performance as your typical silent neo-noir investigator hero. Li Gong is also very good as Anna Lan-Ting, the resident femme fatale.
Truth be told, I kind of wish the script was a bit better so that these people could have really stretched their wings. As it is, it's not bad, but it's not really all that original either. You can figure out the mystery pretty early if you know anything about history, the biggest twist when it comes to characters also comes near the beginning, none of the romance subplots really surprise and as a whole, while I was entertained, I wasn't really that thrilled.
Shanghai is a good film to check out if you're a fan of wartime period pieces and want to see one that, for a change, doesn't take place in Western Europe. It has great actors, a decent script, excellent production values and a tight enough pacing to make up for its unoriginality.
The story revolves around Paul Soames(Cusack) who investigates the murder of his friend Conner,who was a fellow spy like himself and who was working inside enemy lines in Shanghai,investigating the troubling relationship between Japan and China.Anna Lan-Ting(Li Gong) meets Soames during a gambling match and John Cusack tries to gets attracted to her(and meets her husband!).Her Husband Anthony Lan-Ting(Chow Yun-Fat) is a major man in Shanghai with political and mafia connections.And it turns out that Anna works with the resistance and the Japanese Captain Tanaka starts to pursue her......
The Highlight of the movie is its great atmosphere!(u call it editing,u call it sound design.....both wer gr8!).The cinematography and Lighting wer also equally good from the first shot till the last.....
This movie is definitely a must watch either if u like Film Noir or not,All the characters are given equally important roles,even though the story revolves around Soames(A lot Of Cusack Fans in India!) and one can safely say it is the best that Mikael Håfström has created.
The story is set in the few months before the entry of the US in the war against Japan, and actually the heroes (some of them American agents) seem to discover preparations about Pearl Harbor and the breaking of the war in the Pacific, but they do not seem to care very much, as they are busy with their personal intrigues and revenge, as well as romantic stories, none convincing, all confusing, and certainly lacking the burning eroticism in the film by Lee. Actually never had John Cusack looked to me so uninvolved emotionally as in this film! I personally have a lot of sympathy for this actor, but he really seemed by himself unconvinced about what his character is supposed to do, so he failed to convince us as well.
Besides Cusack we have in this movie Li Gong, one of the greatest stars of the Chinese-speaking screens who makes all efforts to create something credible and worth remembering but eventually fails as well because of the lack of clarity of directing intentions. Ken Watanabe on the other hand is such huge an actor and has so much charisma that he looks convincing and deadly dangerous all over the film, with a human twist by the end. He may be actually the only reason for which the sentimental turn taken by the story towards its end does not look so bad despite the (bad) cartoonish Shanghai in flames.
It was a great piece of film making with a great premise, good characters, excellent acting, and scripting, and it is beautifully shot.
This isn't an Oscar contender, but then it doesn't have to be to actually be a good and entertaining film worthy of a viewing.
I really enjoyed the way it placed a murder mystery into such a tense and dramatic period of history - World War II effectively becomes another central character in this film, and to great effect actually, because we all think we've got the big secret figured out right up until the very end when we discover it's not actually what we thought we 'knew' it to be.
I also really enjoyed the fact that it presented us with a strong notion of the fact that even during moments of huge historical importance, at the centre of these events are still real human beings, just like you and I, with real human concerns and affairs that consume their attentions (as well as the big things like world war).
A solid little flick, definitely worth the watch!
And Shanghai got a good one. Cusack plays the American agent Soames that is sent to Shanghai to investigate the murder of his best friend and fellow agent Conner. Conner seems to have fallen for the wrong girl, but Soames are convinced he was on to something big. Set in the besieged city of Shanghai during second world war (1941) the city is split between the Americans, British, Japanese and Germans. Not counting all the Chinese that are actually living there. The Japanese and Germans are allied, and has an agreement with the local branch of the triad. The Americans are supposed to be neutral, but the trail Soames is following leads to a dangerous and alluring woman, the leader of the Chinese resistance and the wife of the triad leader. So, everyone is scheming behind the others backs.
Important to these low key thrillers are the cast, and for a movie set as Shanghai is, I couldn't think of a better cast. John Cusack is joined by Yun-Fat Chow, Ken Watanabe, Li Gong, David Morse, Franka Potente and Rinko Kikuchi. Most of them is severely underrated and once again gives very good performances in Shanghai.
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.
John Cusack has always been a favourite of mine,Yun-Fat Chow, Ken Watanabe are excellent and Li Gong steals your heart and never gives it back. Her performance is a true femme fatale of the old school.
If you are a fan of old Hollywood movies then I strongly recommend this film.