Shanghai Grand



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.

Andy Lau and Leslie Cheung
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).
Ning Jing, Wu Hsing Kuo, Lau Shun and Leslie
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.
Andy and rubber snake!


My rating for this film:  6.
 

This would of course be Almen Wong!



DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is very nice - good color tones, sharp, clean.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.

9 Chapters

The subtitles are Chinese or English or none - and easy to read.

There is a trailer for this film - but no others.