- World Film Locations: Shanghai ed. by John Berra and Wei Ju
An indispensable and welcome addition to Intellect’s World Film Locations series, World Film Locations: Shanghai is a lively and complete handbook that enables the cinephile and the broad culturally cultivated reader-traveler to apprehend the spell and complications of Shanghai through the vibrant lens of film. In tandem with other volumes that call particular attention to the moving image of the city as notable and as diverse as New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, and Prague, this recent contribution edited by John Berra and Wei Ju comports with and corroborates Intellect’s distinct interest in “explor[ing] and reveal[ing] the relationship between the city and cinema by using a predominantly visual approach perfectly suited to the medium of film,”1 as propounded on Intellect’s own website. World Film Locations: Shanghai registers a kindred sensitivity to the genealogy and cultural history of the city in alliance with the cinematic and representational narrative of cognitive mapping. Additionally, this volume emphasizes and acknowledges ultimately the significance and singularity of Shanghai as a site of filmmaking, enterprise, geopolitical contention, and global interaction, on a par with such other renowned cities of Intellect’s choosing.
To be sure, Shanghai has long received accolades as the “Oriental Paris” and “Hollywood of the East” for its pivotal role in Chinese film history and furthermore its symbolic standing at the forefront of East–West exchange and modernization since the early twentieth century. The volume is not the first of its kind in what is an extensive repertoire of Shanghai imaging,2 yet it makes a convincing case for constructing and centralizing the space through the productive apparatus of cinema, a subject worthy of further and deeper investigation, as I suggest. Editors Berra and Ju have assembled a comprehensive range of reviews of forty-six films alongside plentiful film stills, six maps of the pinpointed film locations, as well as seven critical essays tracing the rich tradition of and the sophisticated relation between Shanghai and film.
The short reviews cover a wide array of works that record and capture the local experience and life of Shanghai, such as Scenes of City Life (1935), Suzhou River (2000), Go for Broke (2001), and Nostalgia (2006), but it also covers those that re-create a multifaceted, mercurial image of Shanghai designed elsewhere and circulated globally, for instance, Empire of the Sun (1987, United States), Center Stage (1992, Hong Kong), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004, Japan), and Shanghai (2010, United States). [End Page 107] The films discussed span from the early 1930s (Shanghai Express, 1932) through the twentieth century to the present day (Tiny Times 1.0, 2013). Just as ambitious as its spatiotemporal framing is the collection’s wide scope that navigates across a diverse variety of film genres from social drama (The Goddess, The Red Violin, Shanghai Dreams), romantic comedy (The Painted Veil, The Longest Night in Shanghai, Say Yes), musical (Perhaps Love), film noir (The Shanghai Gesture, Shanghai Triad), sci-fi thriller (Looper, Code 46), war epic (Beginning of the Great Revival), action film (Kung Fu Hustle, Mission: Impossible III), to documentary (I Wish I Knew, Street Life) and even short Internet commercial (Lady Blue Shanghai). All of these successfully bring us into the prime and mysterious locations in and of Shanghai — be it the traditional Shanghainese neighborhoods of longtang (alleyway) and shikumen (townhouse), historical landmarks (the Bund, Nanjing Road, 1933 Shanghai), modern skyscrapers (Oriental Pearl Tower, Jinmao Tower), the most trendy and luxurious social places at the heart of the city, or the lavish set of Shanghai Film Park on the outskirts of town.
The key term “location” continues to resonate resoundingly throughout these vivid accounts. Each gives an overview of the film as a whole, with attention quickly directed to the place where the film was shot or that the film sought to portray. Quite often, the presentation is also characterized by a close textual analysis of a select scene with accompanying images, and for contrast...