Shanghai Triad is one of those touchstone foreign films of the 1990s. I can remember a time when film fans would break their backs trying to find an arthouse theater that was showing this one. The rest of us had to settle for home video after these films blasted through Awards season. So, what is to be made of this dramatic look at 1930s mob antics in Shanghai? After all, this was China’s equivalent to our burgeoning gangster picture melodramas.
Gong Li was quite the muse for Zhang Yimou in the early to mid 90s. While this was the last movie they made for nearly 11 years, it also marked the dissolution of their real life romance. It’s not hard to see how rough Gong Li’s character was treated onscreen being connected to the turmoil behind the scenes. In fact, my rewatch of this movie was kinda eye-opening to see how poorly the females in the film are treated.
While taking place in a week of gangster life in Shanghai, Shanghai Triad never shies away from real world ills. Any woman that stumbles across our lead character’s mouth is doomed to ruin. It’s not entirely his fault, but it just goes to show how the past was rough on a lady regardless of her location in the world. What’s even sadder is that the film ends on making a point that this mayhem will be generational.
The Shanghai Triad Blu-ray comes with a video essay by Grady Hendrix and a new booklet. Those aren’t the best special features, but they get new fans thinking about what they saw in Shanghai Triad. Film Movement has done a solid job with these releases and I look forward to what arrives next. I’d recommend a purchase.