(Mikael Håfström, 2010)
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: 'Shanghai' looks fantastic and boasts a great global cast but fumbles the international relations between its tone and script.
A nicely cast John Cusack plays a "good American" who "keeps his head down and remains neutral" while 40s Shanghai is split amid a powerplay between local Chinese and invading Japanese during the war.
As his reporter character finds out, it's a little more complex than all that with the Brits, French and more all having their own corner giving the well-established locale in Mikael Håfström's film an exotically uneven flavour ala Carol Reed's 'The Third Man' or Philip Noyce's 'The Quiet American' (both themselves adaptations of Graham Greene stories).
Add in some stunning production design, costumes, colour-rich cinematography and a solid supporting cast ('The Last Samurai' Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe, Chow Yun-Fat, Li Gong and David Morse) and 'Shanghai' should really hit the mark, right? Unfortunately, wrong.
In addition to the sound design and editing being garish and drastically distracting from the production's elegance, the story is strained. The mystery in the script frankly isn't mysterious or grounded enough to make us care as Cusack's investigator examines his friend's demise amid a wartime conspiracy. It's as if we entered half way through and only stay to the end out of courtesy.
Mikael Håfström fumbles his narrative with stilted flashbacks, half-baked narration and an annoying habit of ramping up the score when there isn't much action going on. As a director, Håfström is better in small confined spaces as evidenced in '1408' - the hotel room horror penned by Stephen King which also starred John Cusack.
'Shanghai' is a well tailored suit draped across a body that doesn't belong at the party.
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