Shanghai Triad ★★½

1995 Cannes Film Festival (In Competition)

The first half is all too familiar in its use of an innocent newbie to introduce the viewer to 1930s gangland Shanghai and the mistress/diva played by Gong Li. He is presented as little more than a transparent vehicle for exposition and never develops a function beyond that of a pair of eyes. The photography and production design are (of course) pretty without being very evocative—and the musical arrangements are glaringly modern—so it's a relief when it settles down in the country in the second half. While the gradual thaw of Gong’s character is hardly surprising, it is effective, and the ending is impressively uncompromising.