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Sunday, June 1, 2008

SHANGHAI TRIAD (1995)

Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou said finis (at least temporarily) to longtime muse Gong Li on this off-kilter 1930s era gangster pic. In a series of short, swift movements, a naive 14 yr-old country boy at the start of a most unsentimental education becomes our POV working as personal servant to the beautiful, and much younger, mistress of a top gangster boss. Out of the boy’s glimpses & misinterpretations, we piece together internecine maneuvers & a deadly eruptions between the two main Shanghai gangs. The film is probably a bit too studied for its own good (enough color filters & steady-cam shots for three films), but the story grows progressively gripping as one layer of deceit after another becomes clear to the boy. (And to us.) Gong Li plays her most unsympathetic part yet which may have led to the film being less seen and generally underrated.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: If you ever wondered just what the misbegotten film version of BILLY BATHGATE was trying to pull off, here’s your answer.

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