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上海灘十三太保 (1984)
The Shanghai Thirteen

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 01/16/2009
Summary: Has moments of greatness....

Nearing the end of his long and illustrious career, director Chang Cheh had his formula for making his movies down. In this film, he gathers all his actors from the 60’s and 70’s, casting them in a thriller that takes place in the time of the Nanking authority and the treachery surrounding it. For extra box office appeal, Chang concedes to a sequence featuring then newcomer Andy Lau who, as we all know now, became a huge international star just like his co-stars did in the previous decades. Some bad-ass fighting scenes feature unique death blows, as well as Chang’s requisite slow motion action. At the end, it seemed to this viewer that it was difficult to transfer Sung Dynasty heroism and chivalry to a story of anti-Japanese espionage.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/26/2006

“Shanghai 13” is a story of self-sacrifice, patriotism and bravery in the face of almost certain death. It is full of well executed action scenes by some of the reigning martial arts monarchs of the 70s accompanied by the crown princes who would replace them in years to come. Chang Cheh makes almost no attempt to develop his characters, a good idea since when he does (as he is dying Andy Lau has either of vision of what might be or a memory of what had been) it is dreadful. The plot is as simple and straightforward as can be—get a person with an irreplaceable document from here—Shanghai—to there—Hong Kong. During the journey a large number of highly skilled, well armed and completely ruthless killers, almost all clad in black, will to get the document, kill the courier or both.

At least that is what seemed to be happening. The VCD that I viewed was cropped so that both sides of the frame were cut off making it impossible to see some of the action and the beginning and ending of most the subtitles. Additionally the subtitles were white and were almost always shown against a white background. However “Shanghai 13” could work as a silent movie with occasional intertitles so the lack of dialog wasn’t much of a problem.

The fights are terrific as one would expect with the sterling cast assembled here. Most of the bad guys wield swords, a few of which find their way into the guts of the heroic defenders but in each case the defender sells his life very dearly, dispatching entire battalions of black clad evildoers before finally succumbing. There are only a couple of duds, including the booby traps deployed by Wanderer Yip who is suavely played as a combination of Rick from “Casablanca”, James Bond and Mr. Wizard. The exploding watch was bad enough but the trick light fixture showed just how low a budget this movie had. Chi Kuan-Chun is so tough and fit as Leopard that one can imagine him slaughtering a lot of bad guys after he has been run through with a sword—which is what he does.

Another indication of the lack of money was during the final battle, a rousing multi-part melee. The walls that fighters were thrown through looked as if they would have collapsed under their own weight without help. There was one ingenious use of a prop here—one of the main attackers met his end when Ti Lung, playing a tough old longshoreman, stabbed him in the stomach with a long hollow pipe. Everything stopped for a beat, then another beat, then blood began to run from the end of the pipe—a very nice touch.

The center of all this activity was Mr. Gau, the man with the secret document that would publicize an duplicitous treaty signed by...well, signed by someone with the evil Japanese. Chaing Ming, at the very end of his career, deserved better—Mr. Gau is so underwritten that he makes Halle Berry’s Catwoman a complex and profound character. He is unmoved when hero after hero gives his life to keep him alive (although he did tell the expiring Student that he would never forget him) and never raises a hand in his own defense. Mr. Gau doesn’t even know how to run away but has to be led from place to place, often by a defender who has been all but disemboweled.

The end of the movie is abrupt but it actually makes sense. The brave Shanghai 13 have delivered Mr. Gau to the docks where the ship for Hong Kong awaits him. Twelve of the 13 are dead but they have accomplished their mission. While Chang Cheh could have spent an additional ten or fifteen seconds wrapping things up just a bit, possibly reminding the audience why it was necessary for so many hundreds of men to spill their blood, the movie would still have to end there on the waterfront.

I can’t assign a numerical score since image and sound on the VCD were so bad.

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 12/27/2005

Shanghai 13 was one of legendary director Chang Cheh's last films. It at once shows what was so great about "old school" martial arts films, yet points out what many people consider to be the genre's greatest flaws that would ultimately spell its' demise shortly after this movie came out. The story concerns a Mainland government agent who is trying to defect to Hong Kong, and enlist the aid of the "Shanghai 13" (or "Thirteen Rascals" as the subtitles call them), a group of highly-trained mercenaries.

The film's flimsy plot is mostly just an excuse to get to the next fight scene, of which there are plenty. After the slow-moving first half-hour, the action rarely stops, and it's pretty solid for the most part -- if a bit repetitive. The cast list is a virtual "who's who" of the late 70's-early 80's kung fu films, with older stars such as Jimmy Wang Yu pairing up alongside neophytes such as Andy Lau. Despite the strength of the cast and number of violent brawls, ultimately Shanghai 13 falls flat. The dated melodrama of Chang Cheh's male bonding antics combined with an ultra-low budget makes this picture one more for die-hard old-school fans, rather than your more casual viewer.

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Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 11/15/2002
Summary: One of the coolest

I'm sure anyone who knows anything about kung fu movies can figure out that this is an all-star film that contains numerous fights, and so it is. What a show. Understandably, the movie has a regular plot with minimal effort to carry it out, which is more than made up by the cast and the action. The best thing about the movie is the guessing game - who will appear next? So many familiar faces, so little time. And most of them perform excellent kung fu. Among the best: Leung Kar Yan VS Lu Feng, and Ti Lung VS Chan Sing. However, my personal favorite was Chen Kuan Tai, who just shines in the first 20 minutes. He is such a badass (and a good guy), although he doesn't do more than 10 seconds of kung fu. He has never been cooler. And the next time somebody says Andy Lau has no skills, show them this movie.

Although I expected the messy, quick-rushed plot, the ending is still bad beyond my belief. There is practically no ending. So prepare yourself for a fun ride with a sudden stopping point.