Review of Shanghai Rumba (Shanghai lunba, 2006)，A Shanghai Film Studio production.
Director: PENG Xiaolian
Music: Pan Guoxing
Cinematographer: Lin Liangzhong, Wu Shijun
Art Director: Zhou Xinren
Screenwriter: Peng Xiaolian
Editor: Yang Xinyu
Cast: XIA Yu, YUAN Quan, GUAN Yi, CUI Jie, GAO Xin, LI Xuetong, DING Danni, SONG Ruhui and CHEN Hongmei
Running time: 115 MIN.
Release in China: Feb. 14, 2006.
Shaoyi’s Rating: B+ (Very Good)
Woman director Peng Xiaolian’s persistent take on Shanghai goes exquisitely nostalgic in Shanghai Rumba, a love story loosely based on the life of China’s legendary actors Zhao Dan and Huang Zongying and the film they starred in, Crows and Sparrows (1947).
Despite the film’s conventional camerawork and storytelling, film fans and critics would find Shanghai Rumba enchanting and irresistible. Best actor Xia Yu (Venice Film Festival) plays Ah Chuan, a well-known actor of the 1930s and 1940s whose unruly spirit is often at odds with the Nationalist regime as well as the bondage of family. The film begins with the scene in which Ah Chuan plays an underground agent during the Sino-Japanese War, but quickly shifts to the point of view of Wan Yu (played by Xia Yu’s real-life girlfriend Yuan Quan), who marries into a wealthy Shanghai family but always dreams to become a film star, the very career the wealthy family finds degrading. The unhappy marriage, which Wan Yu finds suffocating, quickly takes downturn after Wan Yu begins to play roles with Ah Chuan. There are hurdles to be crossed before the two eventually embrace each other, however. Wan Yu is married, and her wealthy husband is at least considerate and caring on his own term. As to Ah Chuan, although single, he lives under the shadow of his previous marriage, during which he is dubbed an “irresponsible” father who wants to fulfill his dream at any cost. Certainly this is the familiar trick of any love story: there got to be some hurdles to overcome before the loved ones finally get together. In the ending scene, the two meet again at a film set and the dialogue between the two reveals their true feeling…
Shanghai Rumba was officially released on Valentine’s Day, 2006. It is a perfect date film for those who believe love will conquer everything. To me, however, the film succeeds in invoking a cinematic history that is worthy of constant revisits. I was drawn to the film because it skillfully weaves together the love story and the Shanghai filmmaking scene in the 1940s. As we enjoy the behind-the-scene-like sequence of the pre-1949 Chinese classic Crows and Sparrows, the love relation between Ah Chuan and Wan Yu also develops. Yuan Quan’s balanced performance adds elegance, passion, and subtlety to the Wan Yu character, a fashion-conscious woman whose taste in “qipao” rivals that of the woman character (Maggie Cheung) in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000). On the other hand, despite the fact that Xia Yu does a fair job in restaging Zhao Dan’s performance in Crows and Sparrows, compared to Zhao’s remarkable acting, Xia’s performance lacks real-life authenticity and the “neo-realist” touch that makes Crows and Sparrows an all-time classic.