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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yao A Yao Yao Dao Waipo Qiao (aka Shanghai Triad) (1995)

In 1930s Shanghai, a backward 14 year old peasant boy (Wang Xiaoxiao) is brought from the country by his uncle to serve the selfish mistress (Gong Li) of a Shanghai crime lord (Li Baotian). But when the crime lord brings all of them to a secluded island in order to hide out from a rival gang, the boy begins to see a different side to the mistress. This is a lovely film with a marvelous central performance by Gong Li. Directed by Zhang Yimou, the film is bolstered considerably by the shimmering, golden hued cinematography of Lu Yue who received an Oscar nomination for his splendid work here. But it's more than just a gorgeous to look at film. Zhang doesn't glamorous his gangsters the way Hollywood often does. It's a disturbing film as we watch two children (a girl child played by Yang Qianguan may suffer an even worse fate than Xiaoxiao) infected and corrupted by the gangland triad. At first, Gong Li's performance appears to be one dimensional, a spoiled bitch snapping at everyone and demanding her way but her shift is subtle as she slowly drops each veil until we can see the innocent country girl before she, too, became corrupted by the Shanghai influence. A haunting, elegiac film.

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