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With: John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yun-Fat, David Morse, Ken Watanabe, Franka Potente, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Hugh Bonneville
Written by: Hossein Amini
Directed by: Mikael Håfström
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, some drug use and brief language
Running Time: 105
Date: 10/02/2015

Shanghai (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

China Brawl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written by the talented Hossein Amini and clearly inspired by spy and detective movies of the 1940s, this seems to have been a labor of love. But it's so convoluted that it eventually becomes lost. The cast is a great collection of international personalities, all of whom seem to fit right into the period clothing and setting, and they all move and speak with the appropriate rhythms. For a long time, it's easy to follow them, even as the plot becomes more complex.

In 1941, Shanghai is the last city in China not entirely controlled by the Japanese. American Naval Intelligence officer Paul Soames (John Cusack) arrives there to meet his friend and colleague Conner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). When Soames learns that Conner has been killed, he poses as a newspaperman to find the person responsible. He becomes friendly with a Triad leader, Anthony Lan-Ting (Chow Yun-fat) and his wife Anna (Gong Li) as well as the Japanese Captain Tanaka (Ken Watanabe). He discovers that Anna may be a spy, and also discovers that Captain Tanaka's mistress Sumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) was secretly seeing Conner. If Soames can find Sumiko before it's too late, he may have a key to the whole puzzle.

Amini's screenplay is certainly ambitious, but as it reaches its climax, it takes too many short cuts, and can't keep up its high level of storytelling. Director Mikael Hafstrom — whose previous movie with John Cusack, the ghost story 1408, was so vividly atmospheric and effective — seems rather confused here. The movie frequently betrays too many nervous cuts as if to cover up his own increasing discombobulation as to what's actually going on. But Shanghai may have been doomed anyway; it has been on the shelf for five years.

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