Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shanghai, Oh, Baby

Zhou Wei Hui's blandly incendiary 'Shanghai Baby' first crossed my path in 2001 while I was working as a management consultant and wanted anything to do again with life in China. Much in line with its reviews, I found the novel to be a weak representation of the rich, dark world I had known to be Chinese nightlife. 'Maybe it was just because it was written about Shanghai...' suggested one of my Beijinger friends. After living in Shanghai for nearly six months, I can say that the narrative has a documentary quality that I had never really given it credit for...Yet, by no means does this account for why the novel was made into a film, with 'actress' Bai Ling, no less! The film, which came out in 2007, was first released in Italy, made by a German company and shot largely in Shanghai. It is a co-production in the loosest sense of the term. In order to shoot legally in China, the company had to have a Chinese production facilitation partner. 

Truthfully, the most noteworthy parts about this movie (and the book for that matter) are the rampant sex and nudie shots. Why? Well, apart from being the only apparent reason that the film was distributed as widely as it was, they bring up the important question of co-productions and indecency laws. Whereas the more graphic scenes of 'Lust, Caution' were shot in Hong Kong due to concerns about the legality of parts of the shoot, 'Shanghai Baby' included a bathroom sex scene, get ready Shanghai residents, within what appears to be the actual bathroom at Zapata's. How does this happen?! What permutations of power and legal shiftiness ban Ang Lee, but welcome Bai Ling?

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