Longest Night in Shangahi (2007)

22 12 2008

Well, a film like this isn’t going to gain an audience from the “arty” crowd, which I’m sure most people reading this belong to, but I still have to say that it is absolutely great. It is rather bland, outside of some nice visual flourishes that are basically inherited from setting a film in a neon-lit modern city. I don’t mean any disrespect to Yibai Zhang, but he comes off as a rather “ordinary” guy, in the sense that his film feels very mainstream and pedestrian, but also shoots for something more profound. The difference between this and some Zach Braff vehicle is that Zhang succeeds. Even with his commercial aesthetic, he has created something of a masterpiece, or at least mighty close to one.

Of course, a lot of credit should go to the actors here. Even the usually wonderful “two lost souls” element of this film feels a bit on the normal side. The setup is very good and follows two people who are both reaching breaking points in their respective relationships. Masahiro Mutoki plays a Japanese stylist who visits Shanghai to attend some sort of convention (?) and in the process, he begins to drift further away from his wife and assistant. Meanwhile, a taxi driver (played by the always beautiful Vicki Zhao) learns that her long-time crush is getting married in only a couple of days. The main driving (no pun intended) point behind the film’s narrative lies not only in both characters dealing with their problematic relationships, but also trying to create a new with each other, in spite of the language barrier.

This is where the film comes dangerously close to falling into “cutesy” territory. The couple’s inability to communicate leads to some, ahem, “wacky” moments. In other words, there’s plenty of unneccessary and completely forced comic relief. On the other hand, the hijinx between the two potential lovers is nowhere near as cringe-worthy as the one involving the bald Japanese guy who follows around a Chinese police woman. I guess this gives a good impression of the film’s overall tone. There’s plenty of things that “ring true” but there’s just as many conventional filmmaking elements that threaten to destory Zhang’s insights. They don’t, however, and that’s exactly why this film is so great. If you’re looking for something formally impressive, look elsewhere. If you’re willing to tolerate some Hollywood-ish flourishes for a very warm and gentle film, then you could do a lot worse.

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One response

7 01 2009
Michael Kerpan

I absolutely love this film (and have only one small niggle with it — namely the unnecessarily exaggerated nature of the initial meeting of hero and heroine). I still have yet to see this subtitled….

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