Shanghai Triad (1995)




Director:    Yimou Zhang.

Starring:    Li Gong (Xiao Jingbao), Baotian Li (Tang, the Gang Boss), Wang Xiaoxiao (Shuisheng, the boy), Xuejian Li (Liu, 6th Uncle), Chun Sun (Song, Tang's No. 2), Biao Fu (Zheng, Tang's No.3), Shu Chen (Shi Ye), Jiang Liu (Fat Yu), Baoying Jiang (Cuihua, the Widow), Yang Qianquan (Ah Jiao), Ying Gao, Weiming Gao, Lian Shuliang, Ya'nan Wang, Zhang Yayun.

Chinese singer gets mixed up with gangsters in 1920s Shanghai.



A young Chinese boy, Tang Shuisheng (Wang Xiaoxiao), comes from the country to the bustling city of Shanghai in the 1930s, brought there by his uncle who is a underling in the gangster world of the Boss.  The boy is completely out of his element, so shocked he seems to walk zombie-like through the action flowing around him.  He is so out of it that he puts himself in danger several times by his bumpkin like ways.  (Sometimes I felt like someone should slap the kid awake and tell him to watch out for himself.)

The boy sees a lot in a week or so.  He sees a murder; is overwhelmed by the beautiful and amoral mistress of the Boss, Jinbao (Gong Li); finds his uncle killed; and winds up on an isolated island with the Boss and crew after an attempt was made on the life of the Boss.   

The young boy finally starts to come out of his shock and starts to form attachments to some of the island inhabitants and to Jinbao.  But has his enlightenment come a little too late to prevent the usual use of violence by gangsters. 

I enjoyed the movie with its sense of foreboding handing over the head of the naive youngster.  Gong Li was very good as the self-centered, egocentric mistress.   

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph.D. 

Historical Background:


Shanghai is split in two by the Huangpu River. 

1930s  --  Shanghai was the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East.

During the 1930s, foreigners (mostly Americans, British, French and Japanese) were less than 5% of the population, but they enjoyed the bulk of its riches and pleasures. Indeed, until 1928, the Chinese were barred from the city's public parks with signs that reputedly said: "No dogs or Chinese."

According to Ralph Shaw, a British journalist in Shanghai (1937-1949), in his book Sin City, Shanghai never had less than 60 armed robberies per day.  And there were more gangsters there than Chicago, Illinois ever had.  The gangsters held the city in a reign of terror and there were often shoot-outs to the death with the police.  (

The godfather of old Shanghai was gangster Big-Eared Du Yuesheng (1887-1951).  In the 1930s he virtually ran the place.  He rose through the ranks of the Green Gang, the most powerful secret society in Shanghai.  In 1927 Nationalist president, Chiang Kai-Shek, hired Du and the Green Gang to execute all pro-communists in Shanghai, a massacre carried out in the 1927 Shanghai Purge. As a reward for his service, Chiang appointed Du to the Board of Opium Suppression Bureau.

In 1937 the Nationalists declared war on Japan. 

See:  Lynn Pan's wonderful book "Old Shanghai - Gangsters in Paradise".



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