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Starring: Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung, Ling Jing, Joo Woo Sung, Wu Hsing Kuo, Amanda Lee

Shanghai Grand is based on a famous 1970s Hong Kong TV series known as The Bund, which starred Chow Yun-fat and Ray Liu. It was that TV series that propelled Chow into the limelight and made him into a household name in Hong Kong; and the scene where he was assassinated outside a restaurant is one of the all-time greatest scenes in HK television.

No film can retell the whole story of The Bund, so it comes to no surprise that Shanghai Grand twists the story so much that it becomes a completely new story. And this, I think, is where Shanghai Grand ultimately fails. It is the bastardisation of a well beloved story that has put people off. If the film-makers had decided to use different names and called it a different title, it may well have become successful, but the familiar names in such unfamiliar surroundings became too much for HK viewers.

At the beginning of the film, we see Hui Man-keung (Leslie Cheung) being held captive, along with his comrades, on board a ship by the Japanese. This was during the mid-twentieth century when the Japanese were invading China. Hui and his comrades are a part of the Taiwan's People's League, and they were on their way back to Taiwan when they were betrayed. Hui is the only one to escape.

Afterwards the film is spilt into three chapters: Chapter One focuses on the character Ding Lik (Andy Lau), a streetwise peddler hoping to make it big one day in Shanghai. He finds Hui unconscious at the harbour and takes him home. They become fast friends after Hui saves Lik's mother from a fire, and they team up to kill Lik's enemies one by one, thus turning them into powerful men in Shanghai, commanding respect from where-ever they go. Lik is smitten with Fung Ching Ching, a wealthy girl whose father Fung Kin Yiu, is one of the richest men in Shanghai, and made a vow that one day he would marry her. But unbeknownst to him, Ching Ching is already in love with another.

Chapter Two focuses on Fung Ching Ching, and her relationship with Hui Man-keung. They had met a year ago in Kirin on board a train when Hui was escaping the Japanese and happened to board her compartment. They both fell in love, but Hui left to join his comrades. They meet up again in Shanghai, but their secret is soon discovered by Lik.

Chapter Three focuses on Hui Man-keung as he looks to find the betrayer of his people. Who else could it be but his beloved's father? Hui goes on to kill Ching's father - right in front of her as well, strongly believing the revenge of his comrades' death is more important than the love of a beautiful girl. Lik doesn't understand why Hui would do such a thing, and to protect Ching, he forces Hui to a showdown. Who lives? Who dies? Who cares?

Shanghai Grand is one of those rare Hong Kong films when the budget and production values are actually high. Everything from clothing, vehicles, and weapons are recreated to feel like 1940s Shanghai, and the whole film oozes with quality from start to finish.

Unfortunately, the poor script and wobbly plot fails to compliment the excellent mise-en-scene. The acting wasn't spot on either, especially that of Andy Lau's, whose bumbling street peddler-turned-master of Shanghai seemed a bit too stark of a change, whereas Leslie Cheung's more straight-faced character fitted in with the surroundings. His relationship with Fung Ching Ching could have been cut completely, and the film would have benefited more from the development of Hui's close relationship with Lik, and their subsequent devouring of Shanghai's underworld.

On a positive note, the action was well choreographed, and added a much needed spark to the murky atmosphere. Overall, a very ambitious project, marred by a tacky structure, and poor acting. Enjoyable at times though. Just don't expect The Bund.




6 1/2 / 10