Shanghai -- Film Review

Shanghai -- Film Review
By Elizabeth Kerr, june 22, 2010 04:41 ET

"Shanghai"Bottom Line: Hoary WWII romantic thriller bites off far more than it can chew and chokes on its own ambitions.
HONG KONG -- "Shanghai," a would-be World War II epic romance with a chaser of intrigue, comes with a boatload of production gossip because of China's refusal to allow shooting in the country and an editing process that lasted nearly two years.

The film, which finally made its debut at the Shanghai International Film Festival, is no game-saver for the Weinstein Co. as it lacks the stylistic and narrative punch needed to separate itself from the pack.

In Asia, pan-continental stars Gong Li, Chow Yun-fat and Ken Watanabe will generate interest. Domestically, the film will face its biggest hurdle in its undetermined release date. Boxoffice prospects look middling at best, if not outright bleak.

In an overstuffed mash-up of "Purple Butterfly," "Lust Caution," "Witness" and a touch of "Hanover Street," the story begins in late 1941 with American spy Paul Soames (John Cusack, not nearly cynical enough) being interrogated by occupied Shanghai's Japanese security chief (Watanabe). The latter wants to know where to find a missing woman, a question Soames can't answer.

Soames is in Shanghai at the behest of his boss (David Morse) to look into the murder of his colleague and best friend, Connor (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Soames gets pulled into cloak-and-dagger Resistance action when he's compelled to cozy up to local gangster and possible collaborator Anthony Lan-Ting (Chow) and his beautiful wife, Anna (Gong).

"Shanghai" does not suffer from poor production or ineptitude: Production designer Jim Clay ("Children of Men"), costume designer Julie Weiss ("Hollywoodland") and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme ("The Proposition") have each proved more than capable of elegantly and vividly rendering select times and places onscreen. Despite its Thai shooting locations, "Shanghai" has a nice hard-boiled vibe and a sense of semi-exotic danger.

However, Mikael Hafstrom (the moderate art house hit "Evil" and Cusack's "1408") and writer Hossein Amini ("Jude," "Killshot") overcook the rice. There is a simplistic nature to the narrative and archetypes that gum up the works. Some of this stems from "Shanghai's" schizophrenic personality. The film tries to be a romance, political thriller and historical drama but winds up merely muddled and scattered.

Cusack and Gong generate little in the way of sexual tension. The all-important kiss-or-fight sequence has zero erotic charge, coming off as a spat between siblings. Watanabe, one of Asia's most dignified actors, is forced to maneuver around unwieldy stereotyping.

Chow could do a duplicitous Triad in his sleep, but his sketchy character doesn't really pop until he gets a moment to channel "Hard Boiled." In a microscopic role as a key witness/love interest, Kikuchi Rinko ("Babel") does ... not much.

It has been a while since an old-fashioned wartime spy thriller graced screens, so "Shanghai" tries hard to squeeze every single element that made the greats great into its frame. In the end, "Shanghai" is a long way from "Casablanca."

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival (The Weinstein Co.)
Production company: Phoenix Pictures
Cast: John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yun-fat, Ken Watanabe, David Morse, Franke Potente, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Rinko Kikuchi
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Screenwriter: Hossein Amini
Producer: Donna Gigliotti, Barry Mendel, Mike Medavoy, Jake Myers
Executive producer: Arnold Messer, David Thwaites, Steven Squillante
Director of photography: Benoit Delhomme
Production designer: Jim Clay
Music: Klaus Bedelt
Costume designer: Julie Weiss
Editor: Peter Boyle
No rating, 104 minutes



Shanghai(2009) (pre-production) (in negotiations)
The Factory (2009) (filming)
Igor (2008) (post-production) (voice) .... Igor
Summerhood (2008) (post-production)
(uncredited) .... Narrator
War, Inc. (2008) (completed) .... Brand Hauser
Martian Child (2007) .... David
1408 (2007) .... Mike Enslin
Grace Is Gone (2007) .... Stanley Philipps
The Contract (2006/I) .... Ray Keene
The Ice Harvest: Alternate Endings (2006) (V) .... Charlie
The Ice Harvest (2005) .... Charlie
Must Love Dogs (2005) .... Jake
Runaway Jury (2003) .... Nicholas Easter
Identity (2003) .... Ed
Max (2002/I) .... Max Rothman
Serendipity (2001) .... Jonathan Trager
America's Sweethearts (2001) .... Eddie Thomas
High Fidelity(2000) .... Rob Gordon
Being John Malkovich (1999) .... Craig Schwartz
Cradle Will Rock (1999) .... Nelson Rockefeller
Pushing Tin (1999) .... Nick Falzone
The Jack Bull (1999) (TV) .... Myrl Redding
The Thin Red Line (1998) .... Capt. Gaff
This Is My Father (1998/I) .... Eddie Sharp, the Pilot
Chicago Cab (1998) .... Scary Man
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) .... John Kelso
Anastasia (1997) (voice) .... Dimitri
Con Air (1997) .... U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) .... Martin Q. Blank
"Frasier" .... Greg (1 episode, 1996)
- Our Father Whose Art Ain't Heaven (1996) TV episode (voice) .... Greg
City Hall (1996) .... Deputy Mayor Kevin Calhoun
The Road to Wellville (1994) .... Charles Ossining
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) .... David Shayne
Floundering (1994) .... JC
Money for Nothing (1993) .... Joey Coyle
Map of the Human Heart(1993) .... The Mapmaker
Bob Roberts (1992) .... Cutting Edge Host
Roadside Prophets (1992) (as John Cusak) .... Casper
Shadows and Fog(1992) .... Student Jack
True Colors(1991) .... Peter Burton
The Grifters(1990) .... Roy Dillon
Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) .... Michael Merriman
Say Anything... (1989) .... Lloyd Dobler
Elvis Stories (1989) .... Corky
Tapeheads (1988) .... Ivan Alexeev
Eight Men Out (1988) .... George 'Buck' Weaver
Broadcast News (1987) (as John Cusak) .... Angry Messenger
Hot Pursuit (1987) .... Dan Bartlett
One Crazy Summer (1986) .... Hoops McCann
Stand by Me (1986) .... Denny Lachance
The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) .... Harry
Better Off Dead... (1985) .... Lane Meyer
The Sure Thing (1985) .... Walter (Gib) Gibson
Grandview, U.S.A. (1984) .... Johnny Maine
Sixteen Candles (1984) .... Bryce
Class(1983) .... Roscoe Maibaum