Reviewed by YTSL
I had high hopes for this 1996 Film Workshop
adaptation of a popular early 1980s TV series that starred Chow Yun-Fat
and Ray Lui in the roles played here by Leslie Cheung and Andy Lau.
For one thing, it is a favorite of a Hong Kong movie friend and Brian also
had good things to say about it. For another, Leslie Cheung is known
for being more astute than many other Hong Kong performers -- including
his way more prolific co-star -- with regards to his choice of which work
he is willing to be a part. Then there was the promise that came
from this offering having a 1930s Shanghai setting and its producer, Tsui
Hark, seeming to be able to do more substantive things with period pieces
than (more) temporally contemporary works.
SHANGHAI GRAND gets off on a promisingly powerful
note with an opening scene that takes place on a boat being buffeted by
high waves and stormy weather. The film's audience gets thrown straight
into an intense situation which involves the torture of a couple of betrayed
members of "the Taiwan People's League" (in a bid to discover which of
them is a man named Hui Man Keung), the cold-blooded machine-gunning of
all but one of the captives plus a gun battle between the one escapee and
the archvillainess along with her henchmen (while an individual later revealed
to be the chief traitor of the patriotic Taiwanese Chinese cause looks
on). It also is via these circumstances and on this vessel that we
get introduced to three people who will play key parts in the rest of this
action drama's proceedings.
Leslie Cheung -- silly little moustache, stubble
and all -- is mesmerizing as the smoldering Hui Man Keung (and IMHO, it
is really only when he is on screen that this often wonderfully atmospheric
yet at times surprisingly hollow feeling work has a heart). Almen
Wong spices up things with her portrayal of the formidable female Japanese
collaborator who unfortunately does not have that large a part in SHANGHAI
GRAND. To keep the elements of surprise that ought to remain in certain
salient plot twists that occur later in this multi-stranded movie, I think
it best to not reveal who plays the third of this trio of characters.
However, the reader -- and (potential) viewer of this film -- would do
well to note that Hui's chief visual memory of one of his hated enemies
is that this individual is a smoker of cigars. Similarly, a cheongsam's
pattern is what the revenge-seeking Hui utilizes to identify the sadistic
woman responsible for the death of his comrades.
For a not particularly ideal or logical reason,
SHANGHAI GRAND has a second story line whose focus is an individual who
literally rises from being a nightsoil collector to a powerful Triad boss.
Andy Lau plays Ding Lik as a man whose ambitions are stoked in part by
his wanting to be considered worthy of his wealthy patron's daughter (The
Mainland Chinese actress, Ning Jing, plays Fung Ching Ching while the Taiwanese
actor, Wu Hsing Kuo, plays her gangster father, Fung King Yin). For
me, this character -- but not necessarily the actor who plays him -- is
the film's major weak component. One big problem is that the makers
of the movie appeared to be counting on the viewers to be sympathetic to
Ding just because he comes in the form of the good-looking and often elegantly
attired Andy Lau. As such, someone like me who thinks the Cantopop
Sky King is okay but not great will find it difficult to understand why
Amanda Lee's minor character would fall for him, and -- more significantly
-- will neither be shocked nor aghast that the woman he loves does not
return his affections (This even without knowing that much about this girlish
character who also is too colorless for my liking).
The hokey manner in which Hui and Ding's paths
cross and lives get intertwined is something else that occurs in a manner
that does not help the cause of SHANGHAI GRAND. At the same time,
and worse, there is a predictability to the film that comes from one's
knowing that it really is only a complete piece of fiction. Consequently,
some way before its end, it ceases to be the effective affecting work that
its makers seemed to have sought for it to be. Perhaps it's no coincidence
then that its director (cum co-scriptwriter), Poon Man Kit, does not appear
to have been given a production to helm in the five years or so since this
disappointingly flawed movie -- which nevertheless has a choice scene involving
a boa constrictor! -- was first released in Hong Kong cinemas.
My rating for this film: 6.
Distributed by Mei Ah
The transfer is very nice - good color tones,
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.
The subtitles are Chinese or English or none
- and easy to read.
There is a trailer for this film - but no others.