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Not even close to his best work, Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou--far from a favorite of Chinese authorities, and frequently harassed and stymied in his career--creates an impressive-looking period piece in this gangland story set in the 1930s. Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) gives a colorful performance as a nightclub diva who is the mistress of a mob boss. Told from the point of view of a boy (Wang Xiaoxiao) sent by the gangster to wait on the arrogant singer, the story follows these characters over several days as they flee Shanghai to hide out in the countryside. A supreme stylist, Zhang in his best work (Ju Dou, The Story of Qui Ju) is not dependent on conventional story structures or expensive sets. But Shanghai Triad leans heavily on both, and while it is an interesting and enjoyable film--and not without subtle allusions to the political climate and culture in modern China--it is finally an unsatisfying experience. The saving graces are the performances, most of all that of the masterful, chameleonlike Gong Li.

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CO11857 Shanghai Triad DVD (1995/Zhang Yimou) $30.99 $19.99