Shanghai Triad was a nice movie, though I wouldn't say it was a good movie. Partially on principle in fact, because I find Zhang Yimou's movies to be ridiculously overrated in the west. I think Gong Li is horribly miscast (her role should have been played by someone a bit more lithe), and on the whole I think the film has some messy storytelling, but it does some really nice work with the conventions of the gangster genre.

Two things in particular stand out in the film, one is the use of the theme of the conspiracy that the intended victim is using to his advantage, the second is some of the mother/son themes the work their way into this an other gangster films.

There is not much to be said about the scheme that is used against you plot, other than its a rather charming plot that is used most effectively in gangster films. The point of the plot being somewhere between "you're damned if you do, damned if you don't," and "you can't fight the wrath of God." If one takes the religious dimension of this plot at full face value (which I'm not suggesting that you do, but I have the impression that Borges was playing with it in the several detective stories he wrote around this plot structure) then the gangster form of the plot would have something of a devilish turn to it.

I have a deep sympathy for damned if you do damned if you don't plots, a sympathy that I never quite understood the reason for. The fatalistic plot is as old as Greek tragedy, and there is a seemingly insensible turn of logic in these stories that makes the glory of man his struggle to overcome his own insignificance. People in these gangster plots are going to their death as a moral imperative, which is a strangely beautiful concept. (This might be worth comparing to Blade Runner).

The kind of Public Enemyesque oedipal story I find rather interesting in this film. The boy's "father" is of course evil, and willing to kill him. His "mother" is a risque woman, which is nice. Whats good about that bit of the story is that the morality of both the man and the woman's position are outside of consideration. The reason why the boy sympathizes with the "mother" as opposed to the "father" is that he sees her out of context (or in the context of her actual life, as opposed to her active life), whereas the father is always rather shadowy. So the value judgment here is that the woman is a living thing whereas the gangster is a force. Action, forces that push you forward, always seem to push the boy a little closer to the grave.

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