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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Shanghai Triad
Shanghai Triad
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 20, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou works with famed actress Gong Li, another effort after several working together. "Shanghai" is a movie that involved me more in the visuals of the film rather than the story, and that's unfortunate. The movie is slow and deliberate, but I didn't feel that it was entirely involving.

The story revolves around a Chinese crime boss and his mistress, Jingbao(Li). The interesting aspect is that the focus is not really on them, but on them through the eyes of Shuisheng, a young man who was brought to China by his uncle, an older criminal who sets him to work as the assistant to Jingbao. Before long though, he becomes more and more involved in the activities of the local mobs.

The film's cinematography and sets are nothing short of beautiful, capturing the 1930's look perfectly. The images are washed in warm colors that make the look of the film even more striking. As for the story though, I didn't find myself engaged with the characters or concerned about what they would do next. I can understand and often appreciate taking time to tell the story and let the audience get to know the characters, but in this film, I felt the pacing was almost glacial at times. Visually, it's a beautiful film, but I just didn't find much to it beyond that.


The DVD

VIDEO: Tristar presents "Shanghai Triad" in an anamorphic transfer in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The results are not up to the usual standards from the studio, but the movie is so visually stunning that, flaws aside, the movie's beautiful images still sometimes manage to shine through. The movie is filmed intentionally soft - in addition to that, there are many scenes in nightclubs or other areas that are smoky and as a result, look hazy here. Clarity does become an issue at times, and the entire movie looks variably soft with only fair detail.

Colors are beautiful, though. The movie is washed in deep, rich reds and golds, looking well-saturated and often goregous. Aside from the softness, there are some problems and also, some positive aspects. Offering the good news first, the print seems to be in very good condition - I hardly noticed any marks, scratches or other problems. The bad news is that pixelation and shimmering are sometimes noticable during the film.

SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Surround in Chinese, and the audio, although limited, is still rather good. The occasional music is clear and easily heard, and there are enough ambient sounds to provide a nice atmosphere for the movie. Some parts are nearly silent, and that choice is very effective here, slightly building tension at times.

MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, with very basic images serving as backgrounds.

EXTRAS: Trailers for "Shanghai Triad", "Bizet's Carmen", "Orlando" and "Emperor and the Assassin". Talent files are included for the director and Gong Li.

Final Thoughts: I found "Shanghai Triad" to be watchable, but unsatisfying. Tristar's DVD presentation is fair, but not up to their standards.

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