by Del Harvey
This DVD is available for purchase at HKFlix.com.
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Filmed with the epic sensitivities of a Godfather saga, Shanghai Grand is actually a retelling of an old television series named Shanghai Beach, which was famous for pairing Chow Yun-Fat with Ray Lui. Producer Tsui Hark (Time and Tide) has paired Leslie Cheung (Inner Senses) with Andy Lau (Full-Time Killer) in the film version, directed lovingly by Poon Man-Kit (To Be Number One).
Cheung plays a Taiwanese soldier and spy Hui Man-Keung, who in opening scenes is tortured and beaten by a Chinese femme fatale (Almen Wong) aboard her ship. He escapes, but not before witnessing the slaughter of his troops by Wong. Wounded and near-drowned, he is found at dockside in Shanghai by young perfume peddler Ting Lik (Andy Lau), along with his pistol. Ting has been tormented by a local minor gangster and vows his revenge. The pistol suddenly makes it possible. He nurses Hui back to health, and the two become fast friends. However, Hui does not reveal his true identity to his new friend. He helps Ting wreak vengeance against the minor gangster, and suddenly both find themselves filling the gangster’s shoes, under the benevolence of local Triad boss Fung. They make a pact to someday be the bosses of Shanghai together, even though Hui promises to leave as soon as he’s taken care of his personal vendetta.
The story becomes even more complicated when Ting falls head over heels in love with Fung’s daughter, the spellbinding Fung Ching Ching (Ning Jing). Of course, Ching Ching has already met Hui and loves him. But she doesn’t know his name or identity, and so has no problem leading Ting on while carrying a torch for true love Hui. Eventually the femme fatale shows up, just when Ting and Hui are most successful, and then everything comes to its inevitable resolve.
Shanghai Grand is beautifully photographed, and the action is perfectly restrained, which helps give the film its epic feel. The convoluted relationships of the main characters provides just enough intrigue and mystery so that we are able to follow the plot easily and still be fully invested in their amazing story. Lau, who can at times be a bit of a ham, is perfect as rising gangster Ting. And Cheung, whose later career sadly offered up few opportunities as good as Shanghai Grand, is superb as the enigmatic soldier/spy.
Shanghai Grand is an excellent film and definitely one worth your viewing time.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly, a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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