Friday, October 2, 2015

Movie with Abe: Shanghai

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
Released October 2, 2015

Historical wars, namely World War II, are frequently the subject of films. The heart of the war and the havoc it causes on all sides is often the focus, but an equally compelling setting is the time before war has officially broken out, when chaos is just waiting to erupt yet has not quite reached a boiling point. “Shanghai” chooses its title city as its topic, a major Chinese port that in October 1941 was still relatively free from Japanese control and rife with rebellion, suspicion, treachery, and intrigue throughout and among the many cultures contained within its boundaries.

Paul Soames (John Cusack) is the film’s protagonist, an American spy sent by naval intelligence to the Far East following a stint in Germany where he posed as a Nazi-leaning journalist. Almost immediately upon arrival, Soames discovers that his best friend Conner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), also a spy, has been murdered. He begins to piece together the last month or so of Conner’s life in which he checked in with his handler (David Morse) infrequently and had contact mainly with a mysterious Japanese woman. As he adjusts to his new life, Soames balances his time between a German friend, Leni Muller (Franka Potente), and an intriguing new relationship with local businessman Anthony Lan-Ting (Chow Yun-Fat) and his alluring wife Anna (Gong Li), who harbors more than a few secrets of her own.

“Shanghai” uses the bustle of its signature city to create an involving and compelling picture of a multicultural city largely free from organized conflict but plagued by the anticipatory energy of those just waiting for a crisis to explode. It’s reassuring to see Li and Yun-Fat in the cast, representing a true authentic Asian contribution to and presence in the film, along with the venerable Ken Watanabe, who portrays a Japanese policeman with his eye on the Lan-Tings and their new American friend. Cusack is a good actor to be in the center of many things happening without taking too much focus from those events, hardly delivering a tour de force performance but playing his part as he should. This isn’t an electric thriller but rather an in-depth period drama that, in its best moments, showcases the feeling of the era. This film, which was released in China and other countries back in 2010, is a worthwhile watch but not a vital one.


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