(Chinese DVD Film Review) Meili Zhu (Vivian Wu) was inconsolable in the wake of the murder of her husband, Lian Wei (Kenny Bee), because she had not only suddenly lost her life partner but would now have to raise their 7 year-old son, Bebe (Lu Yao), alone. Obviously, we all mourn differently and, in the case of this grief-stricken widow, the loss triggered a passionate reaction that rose to the level of a lust for revenge.
And, as she matter-of-factly states at the outset of Shanghai Red, “Sometimes you must do the honorable thing by dishonoring yourself.” So, ordinarily-modest Meili uncharacteristically donned a clingy, crimson dress to pose as a call girl for an escort agency. But this is all a part of her plan for vengeance, as her very first client is her late hubby’s business partner (Roger Yuan), whom she suspects was behind the grisly slaying. Upon entering the hotel room, Meili removes her oversize sunglasses to reveal her true identity to her prey right before pumping him full of bullets.
Unfortunately, crime still does not pay, as Meili narrates this tawdry tale of love and betrayal already behind bars, where all she has to look forward to is periodic visits from her handsome lawyer (Son Hong-lei). Somehow, she always manages to turn the tables on him during their conferences so that they end up discussing his troubled marriage instead of planning her defense strategy. Thus, this fascinating flashback flick unfolds in a rather unorthodox fashion, with the femme fatale enjoying a jailhouse flirtation when not gradually unraveling the multilayered mystery which led to her imprisonment.
We learn that Meili began having second thoughts soon after the shooting, when she went to visit Feng (Ge You), the man who had supplied her with both a motive and a murder weapon. “You wanted revenge, I just made it possible,” he protests, washing his hands of any culpability. Meanwhile, Meili, who prefers to focus on being a good mother to her increasingly troubled son, finds herself haunted by visions of her ex’s ghost and by the guilt of having committed such a violent act.
Then, the answer to her prayers arrives in the person of an American businessman who hires her as a translator. Michael Johnson (Richard Burgi) is instantly smitten and is ready to assume the role of surrogate husband and father figure.
Although the attraction is mutual, Meili has reservations, because of their cultural differences. Plus, it doesn’t help that Bebe’s babysitter, Wei Ma (Zhengwei Tong), repeatedly discourages her from dating a foreigner.
Juxtaposing a plethora of themes ranging from honor vs. disgrace to tradition vs. modernization to trust vs. duplicity, Shanghai Red shapes up like a modern morality play of Shakespearean proportions. The movie marks the directorial debut of Cuba-born Oscar L. Costo whose cleverly-concealed script is guaranteed to keep you guessing up to the whopper of a revelation at the conclusion of this endlessly-intriguing whodunit.
Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Mandarin with subtitles.
Running time: 119 Minutes
Studio: Indican Pictures
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