Shanghai Surprise! I believe Patrick has a better perspective on this film so I’ll sit quietly over here and just talk a little bit about the book (‘The book?!’ exclaims the crowd, blissfully unaware until that moment that Shanghai Surprise was based on a book that Jamie would read). That’s right, the book. Originally called Faraday’s Flowers, it was written by Tony Kendrick and came out in 1985. For whatever reason (perhaps George Harrison loved the author or something), it was almost immediately optioned and adapted into a film. I ended up having to watch the film first and then read the book for practical reasons. I didn’t think this would be much of a problem since it seemed pretty straightforward from the book jacket synopsis: a man is convinced by a missionary to search for opium in 1937 China and falls in love with her in the process. But when I watched the film I was shocked by some of the more bizarre twists and turns that the storyline took. I presumed that in an attempt to spice up an otherwise incredibly boring film a screenwriter had inserted some weird-ass stuff, right? Wrong. After reading the book it is essentially a straight adaptation (with some of the more explicitly violent and sexual parts cleaned up and the order of events somewhat scrambled). The moral of all this is that you cannot blame the storyline on the filmmakers, the book is just really strange (making it all the stranger that it was targeted for adaptation). Almost Mortdecai level weirdness at times. Now as for Madonna’s horrific acting, Sean Penn’s ridiculously bad hair and makeup, and an overlong and dull storyline? Blame away.
Important day guys. That’s because for the first time since we’ve been doing Settings 101 in the email we have finally arrived at an A+ film. Shanghai Surprise not only opens with a meta-acknowledgement of the setting via intertitle and has the setting play a vital role in all aspects of the film, but also has the name of the setting in the title! I had always kind of assumed that London Has Fallen would be the first film to get the coveted A+, but I obviously forgot that any 1986 cycle would have to include Shanghai Surprise. I feel pretty good about it. It joins When in Rome, Texas Rangers, Bangkok Dangerous, Battle: Los Angeles, Ghosts of Mars, Pompeii, Sweet Home Alabama, The Haunting in Connecticut, and Harlem Nights as our clear A+ BMT settings films. There are some other candidates that would need to be debated (I Dreamed of Africa, Jupiter Ascending, etc.), but those are the solid ones. Congrats everyone. We made it.
‘Ello everyone! Shanghai Surprise? More like Makes Patrick Sigh! And it does. As I watched this film I just sighed to myself and thought “Yup. This is my life”. I don’t really get some of these films. I understand that De Laurentiis was going bankrupt and was throwing shit at the wall when Raw Deal and King Kong Lives was made. That makes sense. But optioning Shanghai Surprise for a Penn / Madonna vehicle with inordinate international filming costs? Bewildering. Let’s get into it.
- The Good – It seems like most people disagree with me, but I thought the basic storyline here was okay. No joke. I was pretty interested in the happenings for a good third of the film. The soundtrack was bonkers and banging, just so bizarre and weirdly catchy and maybe culturally insensitive. George Harrison is a madman. I can forgive how confusing the film was because it ran like Indiana Jones crossed with a Noir film, Penn is the detective in this scenario, just his skillset is supposed to be that of an adventurer.
- The Bad – The movie is certainly dull. The back third is bizarre in a bad way with a very annoying businessman who is obsessed with baseball and talks in the third person tagging along for a solid chunk of it. Madonna might be one of the worst things we’ve seen in a BMT film, just a terrible actress. The twist at the end was telegraphed from the beginning. I wrote in my notes: “That guy is actually this other guy, book it”. Don’t be too impressed, it was literally the same actor with a terribly fake mustache on. Speaking of bad facial hair, Penn has bar none the worst makeup for the first twenty minutes of this film as you’ll ever see.
- The BMT – Hmmmmmm, I’ve kind of psyched myself into this one a bit. I would give it a 25 probably, median BMeTric. The movie is weird, I still don’t quite understand how it has a 3.0 on IMDb, that is just so incredibly low. I just don’t really understand how anyone watches it now and proclaims it as one of the worst movies ever made. It doesn’t feel like one of the worst movies ever made. But I would watch it in a BMT movie marathon. It could sneak into some Worst of the 80s medley or something.
Phew. Let’s see. I wouldn’t want a remake to this film for Sequel / Prequel / Remake, but which would be better, a prequel (outlining the hilarious misadventures of Sean Penn’s character in his trading travels in China) or a sequel (Penn and Madonna as drug kingpins in post-WWII China)? They are both good. So why not both? We’ll get Chris Pratt for the prequel, make it kind of a Indiana Jones in China affair, except as a goof he’s always just inexplicable looking for opium. For the second old-strongman-body Sean Penn will reprise his role and we’ll run it like The Gunman, shaky cam action. Madonna’s character is gunned down in the streets as Penn realizes he’s lost the territory battle for the heroin market in 70s China. Time for some payback. The first will be called Shanghai Surprise: Legacy. The sequel will be called Shanghai Surprise 2: Street War. Oof, these both sound terrible. Netflix, I’m waiting by the phone, I’ll direct it for free.