Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Year: 2010
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Cast: John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yun Fat, Ken Watanabe, David Morse, Franka Potente, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Rinko Kikuchi

With all the big names being in this film, how could I possibly say no to seeing this? Currently Shanghai hasn't been released in the U.S., so we Asians have the honor of seeing John Cusack's latest film first.

It is the year 1941, just before the Pearl Harbor attack. Cusack plays Paul Soames, an American spy arriving in Shanghai to meet his best friend Connor (Morgan). At this time, Shanghai is the only Chinese city that hasn't been taken by the Japanese, and the guerrilla type wars between Chinese rebels and Japanese soldiers run rampant.

Unfortunately for Soames, Connor turns up dead before he could meet him. Connor's superior, Captain Astor (Morse) assigns Soames to find out who killed him. To do so, Soames goes undercover as a journalist for a British newspaper and follows up a lead on Anthony Lan Ting (Chow), the big triad boss in Shanghai. Soames finds himself drawn to Anthony's wife Anna (Gong), and learns she is hiding a secret, a secret so big that she has to hide it from her husband. Through Anthony, Soames meets with Captain Tanaka (Watanabe), a Japanese high ranking officer who has his own motives.

Soames peels off one layer after another to get to the truth behind Connor's death, and as a result he becomes deeply embroiled in something that may not be his concern.

Mikael Hafstrom, who also directed Cusack in the horror film 1408, does a splendid job in making the film look and feel authentic. He tried filming this in China, but permission was revoked by their government at the last second, so he had to rebuild Shanghai in London and Bangkok. And despite that, the film looks amazing. The sets, from indoors to outdoors look very realistic indeed. Hafstrom also succeeds in keeping the pace even and allowing things to unfold as they should. The story is narrated by Cusack, and a majority of the film is seen from Soames' point of view, thereby keeping things focused and grounded.

I've always liked Cusack, because he puts in good performances every time, even if the film isn't executed well. Here, he has a great responsibility of leading the film from start to finish, and he pulls it off. Gong Li provides strong support as Anna while Watanabe brings his familiar screen presence as Tanaka. Sadly, Chow Yun Fat doesn't have that much to do here, though he nearly redeems himself in the film's climax. Too bad, I was hoping for more of him, considering Chow is a legend of Hong Kong cinema for the last 20 years.

The plot gets a tad complicated halfway through when more characters are introduced, so it is a bit hard to keep track of it all. But overall, Shanghai is a fine example of a successful merger between eastern and western cinema. Worth a watch. (3.5/5)

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