Lisa Schwarzbaum
January 26, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Shanghai Triad

Current Status
In Season
Gong Li, Wang Xiao Xiao
Zhang Yimou

We gave it a B

Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who was ”asked” by his government to forgo an appearance at this year’s New York Film Festival after organizers refused to pull a documentary about Tiananmen Square, tells the unexceptional story of a 1930s gangster boss, his spoiled, bratty moll, and the 14-year-old peasant boy employed as her servant. But Zhang manages to turn Shanghai Triad into a lyrical, if slow-moving, commentary on imprisonment: The mistress is pampered but hostage to her thug-sugar daddy’s whims. The director’s longtime leading lady, Gong Li, swaggers it up with a flourish as the prostitute nicknamed Bijou — a rare opportunity, given Zhang’s usual stateliness, for the serious, expressive actress to shake her booty. In contrast, Bijou’s gofer, Shuisheng (Wang Xiao Xiao), stands still much of the time, his young eyes missing nothing. Also starring: the landscape, beautifully photographed by cinematographer Lu Yue. The look is rosily glamorous in sophisticated Shanghai, and mistily poetic on the quiet island to which the mobster and his party escape. Does this sound like Billy Bathgate Among the Wild Reeds? It is. B

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