Shanghai Grand (1996)

Directed by
Poor attempt to convert a popular series into a movie
Reviewed by Simon on 2001-12-20

Leslie Cheung & Andy Lau play a Taiwanese soldier gone AWOL and a Triad small boss who rise up through the underworld of 1935 Shanghai. Opens with a really quite violent and bloody action scene aboard a ship, then steams ahead with plot points as if it's afraid the world might end any minute. The opening sections felt something like watching a nightmare, with some unusual cinematography, conspicuous bloodiness and plot development that seemed almost random. A little bit later I felt it was almost like watching a trailer, being presented with selected scenes to tempt me to see the whole, then eventually I realised it felt like watching a movie that's been adapted from a TV series by simply picking scenes the director liked. Which is exactly what it is - a speed-reading version of the series that made Chow Yun-Fat a star in the 80's.

I thought maybe this nightmare approach was simply a condensed way of setting the scene before they settled on the story they wanted to focus on in the movie, but no... the whole thing plays out like that. We're propelled through a year or more's story like a bullet, with no sense of character development or narrative coherency. We get quite a few gruesome scenes, a lot of very nice cinematography and an incredibly sexy female lead (Ning Jing), but at no point does the movie ever engage interest in what's happening. Definitely a fluffed opportunity.