Category Archives: shanghai

China (1943) Alan Ladd Directed by John Farrow


China staring Alan Ladd and Loretta young is a 1943 Paramount film directed by John Farrow (also Renno and Round the world in 80 days.)  Set, pre-Pearl Harbor, in China in the late 1930′s.  At this China has been at war with itself – with several groups attempting to unify the country; at war with Japan for over tens years.  China was also still subject to control via the treaty port system which German, France, Italy and Great Britain controlled various ports and city’s to protect their commercial interests from the instability of greater China.

The film China features an American opportunist named ‘Jones’ and his partner Johnny are in China to sell oil to anyone on either side; Jones is currently selling to the the invading Japanese.


The Character Jones, is immediately recognizable by this brown Fedora and leather jacket; an image used by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and others in Indiana Jones.  Here the comparison with the archaeologist Jones ends.  The Alan Ladd Jones is a business man; ruthless enough to put profit first in a hostile country.

Alan Ladd 'China'Alan Ladd ‘China’

Alan Ladd is cast as Jones the antagonist to the compassionate teacher and his partner.  Johnny accidentally adopts an abandoned child during a Japanese air raid, and is forced to give him up.  Jones is forced to help the teacher; who also hides her ‘charges’, a group school girls aboard his truck; eventually the antagonist Jones turns from ‘Bad-guy’ to ‘Good-guy’.

The inevitable clash with the Japanese occurs forcing Jones to make a choice, putting his live on the line.

The teacher played by Loretta Young, while traveling cross-country to Shanghai, meets with Jones during an air raid on dark rainy night.  Sparks fly between these strong-willed characters where they oppose each other balling nose to nose, with neither budging an inch.

It’s interesting to point out that Alan Ladd is only 5ft 5″, and long legded Loretta is 5ft 6-7″ without shoes.  Alan spent a lot of his career acting stood on the top of a box to kiss his leading ladies.

Throughout the well written film the dialog flows well and through excellent character acting the characters both come alive and develop to provided us with an engaging character driven story.  The screen  itself was based on the play “Fourth Brother” by Archibald Forbes.

Gritty and realistic, dark and deadly the film differs from adventures stories of the time and those which followed.  It reminds realistic right to conclusion, there is no hint of false optimism. This is possibly the best film John Farrow made, his others being mainly formula Westerns, Farrow obivously had a talent for direction and used it well in China.  Alan Ladd and John Farrow worked together again on the 1947 film – Calcutta.


Shanghai Triad Directed by Yimou Zhang

1995-shanghai-triad-poster1A 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

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