A subtle, but sometimes violent look a the turbulent social situation and how this affected the Chinese in the over populated – sometimes lawless – wholly divided – international city of Shanghai in the 1930’s.
A rustic boy fresh from the countryside sent by his poor family to a vaguely related Shanghai crime family, and his uncle who holds a minor subservient position to the notorious gang lord.
The simple country boy is awed and overwhelmed by the opulence and immense wealth he is suddenly surrounded by.
Set in cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 1930s with a background of crime, clubs, showgirls and jazz the boy is given the undesirable position of servant to the ganglord’s mistress, who also happens to be the singer at the boss’s night club. She wastes not time in showing off her loathsome and selfish character. To one of the shows other dancing girls “You know the rule – your ass is your own, but if you get fondled in here, the money is mine.”
The uncle plays on the fealty owed to his and the boy’s master the ganglord. The allegiance is a strong bond of honor and debt in Chinese culture – taught and passed down by Confucian society, in the film this plays out not only through the family ties by their given surname, but also by the debt owned to the gang for ‘bettering’ their position in society. Uncle “All the kids in our family want to come here to get rich, but you’re the only one I recommended. Don’t let me down.”
Both the boys fealty to the gang, and loyalty to his mistress whom he serves are tested by the violence of gang wars and the greed and duplicity of both Mistress and Master in their affairs. The film’s conclusion takes us to the point that the boys loyalties to all are tested to the limits.
The splendor of the film is captivating, nowhere is production compromised by lack of investment and direction. The Gang household is splendid and vast; the pace of the film perfectly captures the lonely feeling that puts you in the place of the boy.
The film is dark but also filled with richness of the Gangland and club society of the 1930’s. The soundtrack and show music is splendid. Featuring classic era songs.
The characters themselves are solid, having layers of light and dark which are allowed to develop with the pace of the film.
I’d highly recommend this film, as one of my all time favorites, as a good documentary piece for study of Chinese side of Chinese in the 1930’s