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This post was edited by ttt222 at 2013-1-28 21:31|
There’s something about Shanghai that has inspired Western and Oriental film-makers since the birth of cinema. From the opium dens, heists, and intrigue of Old Shanghai as immortalised by Josef von Sternberg to the face of the modern metropolis in films like Shanghai Baby, the city has captured the imaginations of cinematographers and movie-goers all over the world. A simple search on ‘Shanghai’ on IMDB.com brings up 142 movies with the city’s name in their titles, proving how popular it is as both a location and a theme.
At the turn of the 19th century, Shanghai was synonymous with mystery and decadence, melding prosperity with squalor, and becoming something of a symbol for eastern exoticism. In 1915, Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie Shanghaied told the tale of a tramp who falls in love with a ship owner’s daughter, and persuades her to stow away with him. However, her father is planning an insurance scam, and arranges for his ship to come a cropper before it gets within sight of Shanghai.
During the 30s and 40s, Shanghai was the inspiration for many Golden Age Hollywood movies, including possibly the most famous – the 1932 Shanghai Express, directed by Josef von Sternberg. He was nominated for an Oscar, and the film won the award for best cinematography as well as being the highest grossing film of 1932. Sternberg went back to Shanghai in 1941 to make The Shanghai Gesture, starring Gene Tierney.
Charlie Chan, legendary character in Chinese cinema, appeared in several Shanghai movies throughout the 30s and 40s. Played by Warner Oland, Chan starred in the 1935 eponymous flick Charlie Chan in Shanghai in which he was invited by the police to investigate an opium killing in the city. This was followed in 1945 by Shanghai Cobra – the tale of a heist on a bank with a secret hoard of radium. In 1948, Roland Winters assumed the role of Charlie in Shanghai Chest, to help solve a murder mystery.
Shanghai got the Shirley Temple treatment too; the little-known Stowaway (1936) has a scene in which the starlet speaks Chinese.
The Japanese war was another popular theme, with a spate of Shanghai movies coming out towards the end of the 30s – Exiled in Shanghai (1937), Shadows Over Shanghai (1938) and North of Shanghai (1939).
Shanghai has often appeared in the titles of films without actually being shown in the movie – as if film-makers were satisfied that the name enough would pique audiences’ interest. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1932 East of Shanghai tells the story of a suburban couple, Fred and Emily Hill, who leave London and take a cruise around the world. Shanghai itself plays a very small part in the action, as in Orson Welles’ 1846 murder mystery, Lady from Shanghai starring Rita Hayworth, which isn’t even set in the city.
Not all films related to Shanghai were actually filmed here. Several were, like Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987) which features impressive shots of the Bund, but others were made on Hollywood sound stages or in Hong Kong studios, like the Bruce Lee movie Jingwumen (1972) – better known to some as Fists of Fury. Nowadays, Shanghai-based films are largely produced in Chedun Film Studio, a little way out of town. Ang Lee’s 2007 Japanese occupation film, Lust, Caution, was filmed here, requiring a full mock up of old Nanjing Road to be built.
Last year’s Shanghai Baby, starring Bai Ling, was proof that Shanghai is still a popular setting and theme for movies, and looks set to continue inspiring and intriguing both film-makers and movie goers for a long time yet.