Shanghai Blues (1984)
Reviewed by: STSH on 2001-02-14
Summary: Disappointing
Along with Tri-star, this would be my least-favourite Tsui Hark film. Not that I hate it or it's bad, but nor is it great. But first, the good news. And there is quite a bit of it.

Kenny Bee puts in a convincing and sympathetic performance, and especially the interaction with his uncle perfectly illustrates the both the warmth and the irritation involved in their relationship.

I can't recall a film where Sylvia Chang has looked lovelier. I happily confess that Sylv is not one of my fave actresses, but she looks good enough to eat here, and her performance nearly matches Kenny's.

Now for some bad news. The script looks like a poorly-cut and pasted jigsaw puzzle. And I don't think this problem can simply written off as a function of the changing lives of the characters. The progression of the tale is therefore jumbled. Tsui can usually get away with this, by pushing things along at a wacky pace and doing outrageous stuff. Possibly it doesn't work so well here because there's a lot less outrageous stuff to work with (compared, say, with the similar-but-a-bit-better Peking Opera Blues).

Sally Yeh's performance seems to encompass both the good and the bad of this film. She carries the bulk of the wackiness, giving a mostly mouth-open screaming and broad comic turn. She seems to have been on "speed". And the way she falls for Do-Re-Mi was completely unconvincing
Mostly, I didn't think the way she played it helped the film, though there were exceptions. For instance, her comic timing in the Calendar Queen sequence was spot-on, and she played the scenes to perfection. In particular, the moment where she readjusts her smile is a scream.

Of course, Sally is integral to the film - she sings the songs too, and the theme song of the same name appears on her greatest hits album.

I seriously believe that comparisons with Tri-star are valid. Both films are jumbled and messy (though SB is less so). Both have characters running around like headless chickens on speed. And both are tied up by a cliched romantic ending (SB uses one of the great Hollywood romantic set-pieces - highly predictable but very effective, and one of the film's best moments).

In summary, there is much to like and much to criticize about this flawed film. But I'd still give it a recommendation to watch, even if only lukewarm.
Reviewer Score: 4