By: Denis Blot
Why is it that studios think putting a bunch of stars together in a movie will make a great film? True a solid screenplay and director can make a difference (“Ocean’s 11”), but more often than not you end up with great actors under utilized or appearing in cameo roles (“The Thin Red Line”). Moviegoers go to see the film with high expectations and end up being let down because their favorite actor was on screen for only five minutes, or the story ends up not working because the screenplay was written to give as many stars as possible a chance to appear undermining the story’s flow in the process. “Shanghai Express” is a film that falls into this category.
Boasting legendary martial arts director/actor Sammo Hung, and actors Yuen Biao, and Cynthia Rothrock, gives the impression of an action packed film, and while there are moments of intensity and great stunt work most of the film is drawn out with a confusing story line that is punctuated with the occasional sight gag that pays tribute to the silent comedy era.
Rothrock is underutilized in the film, basically sitting on the sidelines of the story until the explosive showdown at the end. Biao is more involved in the story but his agility and martial arts prowess is barely seen. The film has several intersecting storylines that culminate in a knock out ending, which in concept sounds enticing but the segments are hard to follow in connection (other than the train) with the others and even at the end most will end up scratching their head as to what exactly transpired.
The DVD extras are worth a look for those who are interested in martial arts films. Interviews with the director and actors, all of who have made their mark on the martial arts film world, provides foundational background of their involvement with Asian cinema. Hong Kong cinema scholar Bey Logan will also educate new comers to the genre as he discusses the film in the feature commentary.
While it is interesting to see the American Western transposed to Asia, the film does not deliver what is expected. Martial arts fans should definitely rent the film as it’s a popular one in the genre, but most should simply borrow it if only to check out the last fifteen minutes of combat.