Shanghai Triad

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +3

Content: -2

Shiushang (Li Xuejian) is only 14 years old when he is sent to Shanghai to become a houseboy for a Chinese mafia boss. Shiushang's Uncle Liu (Sun Chen) instructs his nephew on his duties as a servant to the Boss' mistress, Bijou (Gong Li). Shiushang must follow Bijou around as Bijou sings and dances for her boss in 1930's Shanghai and bring her tea, carry her coat and light her cigarettes. The boy is bewildered with such novelties as telephones, ice cream and cigarette lighters, but soon learns how to be a good servant to Bijou. In the seven days that the movie covers, Shiushang learns many hard lessons about the horrors of the Mafia underworld, even in the exciting, glamorous Shanghai. When the Boss (Li Baotian) is attacked by a rival mob boss, Shiushang's uncle is killed trying to protect him. Now Shiushang is left without anyone to turn to. The Boss, his mistress and Shiushang escape Shanghai and hide out for a while on a deserted island. It is here that Shiushang sees the kinder side of Bijou. Directed by Zhang Yimou, SHANGHAI TRIAD is not as outstanding as his last year's To Live. But this Chinese film with English subtitles is, nevertheless, a moving film about one country boy's loss of innocence in the cruel world of organized crime.

In the first scenes Shiushang witnesses from a distance two men killed by gunshots and dimly sees bodies falling. Another more horrible episode occurs when the Boss' life is threatened and the boy finds his Uncle Liu dead amidst lots of blood and three other bodies. In the final revenge scene, 19 men are dumped and buried in an open grave, at least one of them still alive. Veiled by heavy rain, only some of the bodies can be seen, however. The movie rightly depicts the horror and ruthless killings transpiring beneath the superficial opulence and charm of the Shanghai mafia world. Also, the language is frequently rough with several sexually suggestive comments and many obscenities. The film has no sex scenes or nudity beyond one brief shot of rear nudity as Shiushang relieves himself in the bushes. For the most part, the R rating comes from the film's 15 obscenities and its adult subject matter.

Preview Reviewer: Greg Wilson
Sony Picture Classics, 711 5th Ave., NY, NY 10022

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: Several (7) times Mild 1, Moderate 6

Obscene Language: Many (15) times - F-word 4, s-word 5, others 6)

Profanity: None

Violence: Many times Moderate (at least 24 people killed - most are shot off-screen, one man reportedly buried alive, bloody scene of of several dead men, man slaps boy's face)

Sex: None

Nudity: Once (brief rear male nudity)

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: Few times (reference to intercourse, suggestive dancing)

Drugs: None


Running Time: Unknown
Intended Audience: Adults

Click HERE for a PRINTER-FRIENDLY version of this review.