on July 13, 2007
This film appeals on many levels - there is the exotic historical location of Shanghai in the mid-1930s. The scenery, the setting, the costumes, all of it is authentic. The technical expertise of the producers makes the era come alive on screen. It is a boomtown, a get-rich-quick speculative atmosphere. There is the volatile political tension in Asia between China and Japan. Another factor is the recent Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which caused the aristocrats and Russian royalty to flee ... barely saving their lives by escaping into desperate, degrading poverty. They were lucky to be alive. Shanghai is a fascinating mix of multinationals from many countries. They intermingle under a dark cloud which is expected to burst. Everyone realizes it is only a matter of time before war erupts. A Japanese invasion is deemed eminent ... It is within this complex milieu that Todd Jackson emerges (portrayed to perfection by Ralph Fiennes). He is a former employee of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps who had worked with Woodrow Wilson to create the League of Nations. He survived a bomb explosion but is left blind. He had lived with his young daughter, whom he loved deeply, but who had died in the same tragic event.
Currently, Jackson is the Director of a thriving Shanghai company but he longs to create a nightclub and cabaret where the different internationals in Shanghai can mix without consideration of their national and political differences. The other Directors of the company are contemplating elminating him from the company by buying out his shares but they hesitate due to his recent tragic accident. He spends his free time visiting bars and dance clubs, experiencing the seedier side of the Shanghai lifestyle ... At one such bar, he meets a Japanese businessman Mr. Matsuda with whom he exchanges political and world views. At one of the dance establishments, he over hears someone discussing the background of Sofia Belinskaya (played by Natasha Richardson), one of the dancers/companions who was a Russian Countess. He buys a ticket to dance with her and becomes intrigued by her voice and exotic history. The scene is set for an unlikely romance in the dramatically changing climate of Shanghai. All the characters are multi-faceted and their personalities complicated. The desire to explore the intense nature of their lives is a strong hook in this film.
Sofia is the only one who earns any money to support the former Russian aristocratic family of her deceased husband: her mother-in-law, possibly an Aunt, a sister-in-law, and her daughter. They are ashamed of their poverty and the low life circumstances to which they have been reduced. They try protecting Katya, Sofia's daughter from learning the truth about her mother's lifestyle. Eventually, Todd Jackson opens a nightclub and cabaret where he hires Sofia to be his hostess ... essentially saving her from her lowly life. The film does a superb job of weaving together the sad, tragic lives of these two highly complex characters, each of whom has suffered deep losses in life. They find a way to connect on a personal emotional level which eventually grows into a mature love... despite their vastly different backgrounds. The Japanese invasion of Shanghai nearly destroys their budding romance but sheer fortitude and the power of love reunite the couple. Sofia was nearly permanently separated from Katya during the family's escape to leave Shanghai. The dramatic conclusion to this film is harrowing and breath-taking adding more reasons to call this film outstanding! Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
on October 20, 2009
I bought this hoping it was another great romance movie with eye candy Ralphe Fiennes, but was disappointed. Good acting by Natasha Richardson - but Ralphes character is too reserved - drove me nuts. I won't save it to watch it again, I'll sell it at garage sale next Spring.