SHANGHAI TRIAD – A Review by John Strange
As a film lover, I have watched gangster films most of my life. Working with Asian film festivals has the opportunity (enhanced by my career as a film critic) to watch many Asian films. Thus, when I received the opportunity to review Shanghai Triad for Film Movement Classics, I looked forward to it.
The film, originally released in 1995, is set in Shanghai, China circa the 1930s. Young Shuisheng (Xiaoxiao Wang) is brought to Shanghai from his home in the country to be the servant of the mistress of the Triad boss, Xiao Jingbao (Li Gong).
Shuisheng arrives wide-eyed and is swiftly put in his place by his Uncle Liu (Xuejian Li). Everywhere and for everything there are rules that the young boy must learn and live by. And the rest of the story…
Tang (Baotian Li), the Gang Boss/Leader of the Shanghai Triad, allows his mistress to live out her dream as a singer in his nightclub. I wish the movie had been more about this as her musical numbers DO take up more than a little bit of the film’s length and are decent examples of the times, but sadly they can’t save this film.
We have to deal with killing but no cool fight scenes. In fact, the movie (and I LIKE gangster movies) appears to have been so severely edited that we have deaths and a tiny bit of intrigue, but everything just plods along, even the boss’ escape following an attempt on his life happens at a snail’s pace.
I suspect this film is very true to the way the Triads acted in the 1930s but the script, despite some decent acting, is sort of boring. During the last half of the movie, I found myself wishing that something interesting would happen. When it does, it is so watered down and bland that I really didn’t enjoy it. I give it 2.5-stars. It will fill an afternoon if you really have nothing better to do.
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Gong Li, Li Baotian, Wang Xiaoxiao
MPAA Rating: R (for some language and images of violence)
Selig Rating: 2.5 Stars
Runtime: 108 Min.
Language: Mandarin with English Subtitles
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.