International Film Review: Shanghai 13 (dir by Chang Cheh)


A Hong Kong-Taiwanese co-production that was first released in 1984, Shanghai 13 takes place during the early days of World War II in Asia, when the conflict was primarily viewed as being between Japan and China.  With the help of a thief named Black Hat (Jimmy Wang Yu), a low-level but patriotic Shanghai bureaucrat named Mr. Gao (Chiang Ming) steals a report that details the collaboration between Japan and a puppet regime that has been installed in Northern China.  Mr. Gao hopes to take the documents to Hong Kong, where he will be able to safely publish them and reveal just how corrupt the Chinese collaborators are.  Needless to say, the collaborators would rather this not happen and they are determined to assassinate Mr. Gao before he boards the last boat to Hong Kong.

Fortunately, Mr. Gao is not alone.  The 13 Rascals have been called in to protect Mr. Gao.  Who are the 13 Rascals?  They are a collection of talented marital artists and they are all patriots, determined to reveal the truth about what is happening in Northern China.  The 13 Rascals are played by an ensemble of Hong Kong and Taiwanese film veterans.  One appears after another, each getting their chance to show off what they can do while defending Mr. Gao.  Many of the rascals lose their lives to protect Mr. Gao but that seems to be the point of the film.  No sacrifice is too much when its done to protect the honor of one’s country.

To really understand what’s going on with Shanghai 13, it probably helps to know a bit about not only the Second Sino-Japanese War and the subsequent chain of events that led to the Republic of China relocating its central government to Taiwan.  My knowledge of these events is pretty much Wikipedia-level and I’m not going to present myself as being an expert.  That said, it’s pretty obvious that Mr. Gao, who is forced to leave his home city by a corrupt and ruthless government, is meant to serve as a stand-in for both Taiwan and Hong Kong (or, at least, Hong Kong before it was transferred to Chinese control).  Just as the Rascals will sacrifice their lives to protect Mr. Gao, they would do the same for Taiwan and Hong Kong.  The implication, of course, is that the audience should do the same.

Fortunately, if international politics are not your thing, Shanghai 13 can also be enjoyed as just a non-stop action film.  Admittedly, the film does get off to a bit of a slow start.  (If you’ve ever wanted to see every little detail of how to crack a safe, this is the film for you.)  Once the fighting begins, it’s pretty much nonstop and more than a little bloody.  Faces are kicked.  Bones are shattered.  Clawed gloves are worn.  One man carries a killer fan and laughs whenever anyone tries to remove it from his hands.  The film is full of Hong Kong and Taiwanese stars, all of whom get their chance to show off their moves and the majority of whom also get a dramatic death scene.  One man gets impaled a pole and still announces that he would rather die with honor than surrender.  (And, needless to say, he drops dead shortly afterwards.)  There’s enough slow motion to keep any slo mo of doom enthusiast happy.  The final battle takes place in a ship yard and features combatants jumping on top of shipping crates.  It’s exciting and weird.

Throughout it all, Mr. Gao stands in the background and watches.  Mr. Gao is not a fighter and he can only watch while everyone else in the movie sacrifices their lives so that Mr. Gao can reveal the truth about China’s puppet regime.  If this was an American film, I’m sure that the last-standing hero would probably get angry with Mr. Gao, much as Snake Plissken did with the President in Escape From New York.  But in Shanghai 13, all that matters is that Mr. Gao is a patriot.  He’s a man trying to protect his nation from a corrupt government and, for that reason, 13 people are willing to risk their lives to protect him.  We could use more people like the 13 Rascals.

2 responses to “International Film Review: Shanghai 13 (dir by Chang Cheh)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 7/25/22 — 7/31/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 8/1/22 — 8/7/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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