Cast: John Cusack, Gong Li
Direction: Mikael Hafstrom
Rating: 2 and half
Lush production values, exotic locations and an A-list international cast. Shanghai has them all. Yet this World War II-era romantic thriller is more trance-inducing than entrancing. A large part of the blame can be attributed to the cliché-clogged script as well as to the pallid direction by Swedish helmer Hafstrom (Derailed). The somnambulistic pace merely layers on the ennui.
Set in 1941 in Shanghai, an American naval intelligence officer (Cusack) investigates the murder of his best friend and fellow agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was so striking in Watchmen, relegated to a few perfunctory flashbacks). Cultures and nationalities blend with the city’s anonymous throngs. The investigation unravels as the American pursues a more personal relationship with the wife (Li) of the local triad boss (Chow Yun-Fat). Willy-nilly, he also stumbles upon a political conspiracy that could alter the outcome of the war.
The narrative meanders through the first half, suffering from voiceover-heavy exposition and the incessant jabber with a deceptively stern Japanese security chief (Ken Watanabe, wasted).
Events finally reach a crisis with explosions going off in all directions. The desperate populace, including our protagonist, hustles to get on the last ship leaving the city. Unfortunately, even these ‘action’ scenes drift along with little sense of momentum or dramatic urgency.
The normally bankable John Cusack is underwhelming. Gong Li is required to look hot and harassed which she does adequately. The rest of the performers like Run, Lola, Run’s Franka Potente as a German hausfrau, just about pass muster. Like the rest of this period espionage saga.