Academy Award ® and Golden Globe® nominee and winner of the “Best Foreign Film” from the National Board of Review, SHANGHAI TRIAD is a thrilling and sumptuously stylized potboiler about the Chinese criminal underworld of the 1930’s from legendary director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers).

Hired to be a servant to pampered nightclub singer and mob moll Xiao Jinbao (Gong Li, Ju Dou, Farewell My Concubine), naive teenager Shuisheng (Wang Xiaoxiao) is thrust into the glamorous and deadly demimonde of Shanghai’s crime syndicates. Over the course of seven days, Shuisheng observes mounting tensions as triad boss Tang begins to suspect traitors amongst his ranks and rivals for Xiao Jinbao’s affections. Zhang’s inventive take on the gangster film is “assured and attention-grabbing” (Variety) and Gong’s central performance, “a portrait of a capricious and indulgent woman who gains depth as we watch her — is one of her finest” (Chicago Tribune).

What We Thought:

Shanghai Triad is a pretty solid drama about a 14 year old country boy sent to Shangai to work. His uncle sets him up with a job with a local crime boss helping out a young singer who is with the boss. He must call her Miss and do anything she says.

The film only takes place over about 7 days yet a lot happens. It’s very much a period gangster piece with violence and singing/dancing of the time period. The costuming is great and it really captures that gangster vibe of the era. The cars are awesome. The nightclub is full of dancers and characters. There are men in suits who are gangsters. It’s all very 1930s and I like that.

The young boy is thrown right into the lifestyle quickly. He’s told a lot of rules and what to do and not to do. A few days in his uncle is killed when the boss is double crossed and the boss, the singer, the teenager and a few others hide out on a small island. It slows down a bit at this point, but the ending saves it.

I wasn’t familiar with Shanghai Triad, but I can see it having a ton of fans. It’s extremely well made and acted and the set pieces/costuming are fantastic. It’s surprisingly short for a period piece, under two hours long, so it makes for an easy and fast watch. This is the first time it’s available on Blu-ray in North America so if you are a fan, you’ll enjoy this release a lot. Solid film.

  • Gong Li (Mulan, Coming Home, Memoirs of a Geisha)
  • Li Baotian (Forever Love, The Nightingale)
  • Wang Xiaoxiao 
  • “Trouble in Shanghai” video essay by author Grady Hendrix
  • Booklet with new essay by film critic and lecturer John Berra

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