Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shanghai Mystery and A Modern Medusa: A Movie Review

*full disclosure: a DVD screener of this film was provided by Indican Pictures for review.

Director/writer: Oscar L. Costo.

Cast: Vivian Wu, Richard Burgi and Honglei Sun.

Shanghai Mystery (originally titled Shanghai Red) is one of those hugely character driven films where, if director Oscar L. Costco ("Seaquest DSV") was driving, he must be moving at 20 miles per hour. The type of film he developed may not be for everyone. What he creates is a slow mystery drama that starts with a lady in a slinky red dress.

She arrives at a penthouse in Shanghai, shoots a 'client,' and gets caught. The rest of the film bounces between her time in prison, talking to a lawyer, and revealing her life in flashback.

Mei Li's (Vivian Wu, Strange World) life is explored in exquisite detail. Viewers first learns that her husband was killed during a business trip that she urged him to take. She has a son that she has to raise on her own and her day job is that of a translator. As one life is compared with another the contrasts are there for all to see. Viewers may want to try and make sense of her double-life. This subdued woman is nothing like the figure this film introduces.

And Hsu is certainly one of those intoxicating actresses to watch on screen. When in the red dress, she's very beautiful and seductive. Her character is very much like a Greek Medusa. She is wily and deceptive, and she is a creature that cannot be easily controlled. Much like the myth, to take advantage of her is not easy. Many men try, but where they end up may be with a tip of an arrow than being turned stone.

Death takes place in what she witnesses through her mirror sunglasses. And the high-style life she sees adds for some interesting contrasts to the legend. But stylish visuals are not enough to keep this film moving along. Mei Li is also like a crouching tiger waiting to pounce. She is waiting for the moment to exact revenge on those who ordered her husband killed.

When emotions factor into the equation, what Mei Li feels for her client, Michael Johnson (Richard Burgi, "Desperate Housewives") is put into question. She doesn't quite reciprocate but the body language between the two is obvious. There's some good acting to be found by these two leading performers. The professionalism and chemistry these two have is very subtle. But when parts of this movie are coasting on neutral, nobody is getting any action.

Overall: 5 out of 10.

Shanghai Mystery at Indican Pictures

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