Shanghai Shanghai

If only the wonderfully light, magical and fast moving touch that was brought to the fabulous kung fu dance sequence with Anita Mui and Yuen Biao had been utilized during the rest of the film, this would be a certifiable classic. That scene is sensational and sublime and certain to bring a smile to one’s face – and much of the reputation of this film rests upon it. Other than this, there are also some action sequences (choreographed by Yuen Tak and Dion Lam) that are great fun but the rest of the film is often stuck in earnest slow moving mud.  The narrative simply has no flow or rhythm to it and the viewer never connects emotionally with the story. It's a shame because one senses that with a little tweaking and a crisper script this could have been a complete joy ride.
It is certainly worth catching this film though for the dazzling and entertaining performances from Anita and Yuen. They are simply splendid. Yuen as one expects displays his smooth and very impressive acrobatic moves along with his usual boyish charm - and Anita is just as impressive with her fancy footwork whether be it dancing or fighting. Looking extremely glamorous in her chic outfits and pouty lipsticked lips, she pretty much steals the film whenever she is in it. She has a beautifully intricate and leg-showing fight near the end of the film against multiple opponents that simply makes you marvel at her overall talent. This movie could make you an Anita Mui fan for life.
The director (Teddy Robins) gives the film a stunning classy visual sheen with richly textured colors and ornate stylish sets. As he should - because this is Shanghai - the glitter glamour capital of China in the early 1930's - with movie stars, night clubs and gangsters a large part of the social scene. Clouds are on the horizon though - the Communists and the Nationalists are fighting for power while the Japanese are threatening invasion. It's a wide-open town and nearly everyone is looking for a quick buck.
Yuen Biao comes in from the countryside to visit his brother (George Lam) who is one of the few honest cops remaining in Shanghai. Yuen accidentally gets involved in a well-staged night club shoot out between two rival gangs (one headed by Lo Lieh and the other by Kirk Wong) and in the process he becomes good friends with an acrobatic troupe (with Meng Hoi and Sandy Lam among them). At the same time, George is trying to clean up the town and also deal with two competing love interests - Anita Mui and Tien Niu. This section of the plot adds little to the film and in general whenever George appears the film tails off into molasses.
Anita is actually a secret revolutionary and she is looking for $500,000 that was stolen from them. She suspects that her Godfather, Sammo Hung, has it. Sammo delivers a solid performance  - smiling and looking like the most jovial and kindly person in the world to the public - but he is in fact a totally ruthless triad head. He has one great scene when his true face appears as he callously and cold bloodily kills another man.
The film has three large well choreographed action scenes plus of course the dance routine, but I think my favorite cathartic moment in the film involves Sandy Lam and Yuen. She is being held captive in a gangster’s arms with a gun pointed to her head. Yuen flings a knife right at her face - which she catches in her mouth - and in one motion whips her head around cutting the man's throat. One of those great HK moments!
Yuen looks very good here - relaxed, charming and in control - and has some excellent action scenes – one of them a good one on one fight with Sammo - and has another scene in which he looks almost like a debonair Frank Sinatra - with jacket thrown over his shoulder and in the spotlight.  I was expecting him to break into "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning".
Again this film should have been better – all the pieces were in place – great actors, terrific sets, a solid plot, excellent choreography – but it never quite clicks. Even so, the charisma of the actors and a few near perfect scenes make this a film well worth viewing.

My rating for this film: 6.5



DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer  is terrific - the colors are rich, the detail is sharp.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks 

Subtitles:  Chinese , English, Bahasa Indonesia

8 Chapters

It includes it's own trailer plus Fortune Code, Lucky Stars Go Places, Wheres Officer Tuba.

The sub-titles are easy to read.

Star Files - George Lam, Anita Mui, Teddy Robins and Sammo Hung.