Considerable star power. Big budget. Gorgeous, colourful and moody cinematography. Fascinating and dangerous era of Chinese history. The romance and lure of 1930s Shanghai. The Wasted Times has much going for it.
Reviewer Score: 4
So it should have been much better. I lay the blame squarely with writer/director Cheng Er. The pacing is slow without being absorbing. The plot flashes back and forward with no apparent rhyme or reason. This device, brilliantly deployed in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, serves only to further confuse and frustrate here in TWT.
Ge You is a great actor who pretty much sleepwalks through the lead role. True, he is a cold calculator who kills when necessary, efficiently and violently. But his character is in no way engaging or interesting.
Not that the other main characters are much better. The people who meet brutal and gory deaths more or less get what is coming to them and, apart from the initial shock value, it is hard to feel for any of them.
Ziyi looks fantastic, and actually receives top billing, despite appearing for only about half the screen time. Also, there are several characters more prominent. She isn't really given much to do, apart from react (a little) to the horror around her, and is largely wasted in the role.
The most interesting character is Asano's Japanese near-naturalized Shanghai resident. Much of the story is about whether or not locals collaborate with the invading Japanese, the extent to which they do, the consequences, and the plotting around this.
If more had been made of this thread, TWT could have been much better. This may have been Cheng Er's intention, but it gets quite lost in all the jumps backward and forward, and dwelling on minor characters.
The Japanese and Chinese are portrayed as equally brutal and thuggish, and this could be interpreted as demonstrating sympathy with the hated invaders.
A wasted opportunity.