If I asked you to think of a movie with a beautiful woman, a suave guy in a white dinner jacket, the brink of World War II, spies, letters of transit, and the term film noir, you would probably come up with Casablanca, the famous Bogart/Bergman film from 1942; and you would be right.

If I then said – move the whole thing from Casablanca to Shanghai would you have a title in mind? Probably not if you live in the USA, because this film will not be released in America until the summer of 2011.

Shanghai is a noir thriller. An American CIA (or whatever they called it back in 1941) operative named Paul Soames (John Cusack) travels to pre-war, Japanese occupied Shanghai to solve the murder of his friend and fellow agent, Connor. He will have to deal with Chow Yun-Fat as a triad leader, Anthony Lan-Ting, who is doing business with the occupying Japanese. Lan-Ting’s beautiful wife Anna is played by Gong Li, and the Japanese Shanghai Chief of Security (read as head of Intelligence) is played by Ken Watanabe.

Cusack, Watanabe, and Chow Yun-Fat will be up their eye balls in tuxedos and dinner jackets, fedoras and trench coats, rain-slicked streets, and the decadent Shanghai night life in smoky night clubs and cafes where the men strutted like peacocks and the women dressed to kill those proverbial peacocks. Soames’ mission was to solve the murder, but along the way he’s going to discover that a good number of Japanese war ships headed toward Shanghai have been diverted – their destination: Pearl Harbor.

He is also hell-bent on finding Connor’s missing and opium addled girl friend played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi. Other notables in the cast include Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen & The Losers), Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity & The Bourne Supremacy), and David Morse (St. Elsewhere, The Rock & Proof of Life).

And one more thing, Cusack/Soames will also fall in love with Gong Li’s Anna, who will as usual, simply ooze sexuality.

The film was helmed by Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom. The script credit goes to Iranian Hossein Amini. The film itself has an interesting history. Produced by the Weinstein Company (formerly Miramax) the film was first discussed and the principals went to contract in 2007. Originally, it was supposed to be released on Christmas Day, 2008. But the Weinstein Brothers (Harvey and Bob) pushed it back to 2009. Probably because the Chinese banned production of the film in China. So the film production had to be rescheduled to be shot in Thailand and on sound stages in the UK.

Though we saw no sign of it here in the States in either 2009 or 2010, it did open in various European and Asian markets throughout the second half of 2010. I was recently able to order an international edition of the DVD.

The reviews and buzz about this film has been rather positive, the delayed entry not withstanding. Cusack is an under-appreciated American actor who should do quite well in this Bogey-esque role. Once more we will enjoy Chow Yun-Fat as a Chinese gangster and Gong Li in another femme-fatale role. Beside that, Franka Potente plays a German spy, and David Morse is with the US Embassy in Shanghai.

Cusack will learn what happened to his friend as well as learning a much larger secret about his own government. As the film’s tagline says –

In a world filled with secrets, solving a mystery can be murder.


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