The last tycoon

Last Tycoon poster
Last Tycoon poster
This new movie about Old Shanghai attracted a lot of attention and a large media campaign. With a line of stars including Chow Yun-Fat and a massive budget, it was one of the high profile movies of the end of last year. This is not the first movie about Old Shanghai that I have seen, but it is definitely one of the best.
It is clear that a lot of attention was given to the decor, the atmosphere and the costumes. A number of the scenes were filmed in real Old Shanghai properties, with many antique objects and furniture for back ground. This contributed a lot to the atmosphere of the movie and it really does feel right. This is surely the best effort for a Chinese movie ever. The main outdoor scenes were filmed at Shanghai Cinema Studio (see post on this topic), particularly the ones a taking place on Nanking Road, as well as the ones taking place over an iron bridge (supposedly) over Suzhou Creek (the brigde is a copy of the original one, located in the Cinema studio).

Bridge in Shanghai Cinema Studio
Bridge in Shanghai Cinema Studio
The movie is clearly linked to 1980’s Hong Kong TV series “The Bund”, taking place in Old Shanghai, that started the acting career of Chow Yung-Fat. The story is loosely based on the life of most famous Shanghai Mobster Du Yue Shen, although it often departs from historical facts. Like it’s inspiration, the main character is an amble boy in countryside China, who climb through the gangster organisation to become the leader of Shanghai gangster. The movie adds to it number sub-plots, including gangster warfare and romantic involvements. Like some of the American movies about Chicago gangster, it creates quite an romantic and legendary image of them, forgetting in the meantime that their fabulous wealth mostly came from crime, kidnapping, drug trafficking and prostitution.
Special effects and war scenes
Special effects and war scenes

The movie includes many special effects, in particular in all the warfare scenes. They really help to recreate the vision and feeling of Shanghai during the Chinese / Japanese war, including the devastation of bombs falling in Shanghai streets. Fight scenes are very vivid, sometimes brutal, depicting fights, injuries and death in graphic details. It is probably the most graphic movie I have seen about Old Shanghai, but this also makes it one of the most realistic. The movie also manages to escape talking too much about politics then which is a good think. Unfortunately, it also pictures the main Kuomintang official as a traitor to the Japanese enemy  which was surely not the case for most of them. Too bad, it did not also show some of the them being on the right side of history, like most were.

Finally, it was really weird to have one of the scene taking place in a winery, as it is clear there was no such a thing in China in that period. It is somehow weird to have spent all this attention to make a movie that has the right feeling, but stamble on such a clear mistake. In any case, this does impact so much on the whole story, nor distract from viewing this very good movie about Old Shanghai. To been seen in an Old Shanghai Art Deco theater for best atmosphere.

2 thoughts on “The last tycoon”

  1. Very interesting article.
    One small correction: There were wineries in China during the pre-communist era: My father owned a very small one in Shanghai (bottom floor of a large row house unit) on Rue Molière (then 35 Xiang Shan lu next to an alley): The A.P. Petrellis Wine company. He used to import grapes from the Shangdong province to make wine and also used strawberries and other fruit to make wine and liqueurs.
    Also there was a businessman named Feldman who bought wine and liqueurs from my father for resale in Hankow.
    There was also a large winery in Shangdong run by the Catholic Marist brothers “Les Vins de Chala”. My father bought their wine for resale in post war 1940’s until the Communists stopped the trade for reasons of “regional monopoly” (whatever that meant).

  2. Thanks for the input. I am not surprised that wine was made by foreigners in Shandong then, as it is now one of the center of wine making in China.

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