Shanghai Fever (1994)

Directed by: Lee Gwok-Laap
Written by: Gwaan Jing-Man & Go Hung-Yuen
Producers: Clarence Yip & Leung Sing-Bing
Starring: Pan Hong, Lau Ching-Wan, Wong Yue-Gong, Crystal Kwok, Wong Wa-Ying & James Pax

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Lily (Pan Hong) works as a bus ticket attendant in Shanghai but the low paid job and housing doesn't exactly generate true family bliss. When managing to hook up with Hong Kong businessman Alan (Lau Ching-Wan), Lily's interest in the stock market comes to fruition as the two team up successfully. Lily's rising star does means there's further distance from those that means the most to her and equally so for Alan as his suffers from the separation from his girlfriend (Crystal Kwok)...

You had to have been there kinda rang in my head when doing some minute research before Shanghai Fever. Dealing with economics reform in China during the 90s, then again I welcome the challenge by a filmmaker to combine his concerns for a local audience and doing it in front of a wider international one as well. That filmmaker is Lee Gwok-Laap who at first didn't direct distinctly in efforts like On Parole but came to switch to real concerns in the Hong Kong/China co-production Shanghai Fever and later giving us truly amazing cinema (also starring Lau Ching-Wan) in the form of the earthly Sea Root. Lee can be argued to be drawn to the people on the ground but this time it ain't female ex-con's or a fishing family but Mainland Chinese citizens aiming for riches via the stock market. The comedy-drama on display quite a bit feels in tune and ultimately makes sure one naive outsider such as myself is too.

The opening credits cartoon is both overdone and suitably clever with the common man grasping and holding onto money which then easily can be interpreted like a family being swept away, for better or worse, on this financial path. As the domestic stock exchange opened up for real citizens, there opened up intentions for a screenplay obviously, with some nice ol' "I learned something today" bits but also a worthwhile dip into a reality. Female lead character Lily is the main one being swept away as she's not respected in her low paid job as a bus ticket attendant and family housing isn't blessed with a flush toilet either so who wouldn't want an upgrade? Tension exists between her husband and her as she openly slams down his lack of success in this world but what jumping on the bandwagon of financial success will bring is the expected but importantly real. Because love and money are separated by an "and".

Not that director Lee or anyone is advocating being poor and an upgrade isn't meant to equal a jump to a lifestyle you seem destined to be alone in anyway. It's still a curse, as also evident in the parallel fate of Lau Ching-Wan's Alan. So presto, success is bred out of a somewhat intelligent co-venture but separation from your important ones so there's your question and moral dilemma for some and also all people taking part in the stock craze. There is a wacky side to Shanghai Fever also, an atmosphere that breathes loud characters and loud exchanges, all with a decent satirical touch as there are scenarios played out where our common people will do much for a little extra cash. But a little extra is something to be content with.

As people are dragged down and cracks in relations draw destined characters apart, it's also safe to confirm that Lee Gwok-Laap makes a decent upgrade as a storyteller as well. Shooting the city of Shanghai very effectively and designing the flick straightforward to the point that it adheres to an agreeable reality, it's only a shame he runs out of steam towards the confrontational ending that has movie reality in mind rather than real reality. Structurally perhaps it makes sense but the lack of true experience in the field sinks Shanghai Fever a bit. But likeable antics, message and performances by Pan Hong (who reminds me of the best Josephine Siao offers up) and Hong Kong lead Lau Ching-Wan, get through the talk and Shanghai Fever will create nods of agreement. Nods of agreement in its universal viewing audience.

The DVD:

Mega Star presents the movie in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Minor damage appears at points but otherwise this is a solid outing in all departments such as sharpness and colours.

The sole Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 selection sounds clear for all intents and purposes. Some Cantonese and English makes its way onto the soundtrack also.

The English subtitles only have a few number of errors in grammar and sentence structure. Rest of the way you'll find a perfectly coherent translation. One exchange of 3-4 lines at a restaurant appears before it happens but the synch is back after this scene. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras come in the form of the trailer, the synopsis in text and a cast & crew listing.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson