Shanghai Surprise

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Wisdom of the East

SHANGHAI SURPRISE startled reviewers who were wondering what the worst movie of 1986 was going to be, and scared away multitudes, after screenings left but $2,316,000 in vaults when the bill came due owing $17,000,000.  An MGM exec publicly sniped that cuts in its ad budget came because “the interest in the film has been non-existent.” Odd, you’d think a comedy about opium smuggling set in China during the Japanese invasion would be a done deal?  “Annihilating Butchery framing Laughs Galore”.  Sean Penn and Madonna had recently married when George Harrison’s HandMade Films hand made their biggest fiasco by gambling on the nervy pop star and rowdy bad boy.  George wrote several songs for it as well.

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Wacky rickshaw humor during the zany days of the Rape of Nanking.

She plays (plays at—she can’t act worth rosary beads) a missionary who fate brings into the smarms of a scuzzy con-man Penn (trying to out-dirtbag Mickey Rourke).  Too bad it’s 1937, a giddy time you may long for after 97 minutes of torture by this ego injection. The fulsome production design is a positive, and some of Harrison’s music is okay, but the scripts attempt to strike some sort of Bogart-Hepburn adventure-comedy like The African Queen misses something crucial: Bogart & Hepburn. Always a kneeslapper to have a scene where someone’s arms get blown off: why not have a hilarious fingernail-extraction sequence?  Filmed in Macau and Hong Kong, marked by rows with the press during the shoot and then a gang-stomping payback upon release. The venerated Maurice Binder did the titles sequence, trying to strike flint off those he’d done for You Only Live Twice. That 1967 opus was one of the weaker Bond Connery’s, but it’s a candlelight dinner compared to this chopped suet.  With Paul Freeman, Richard Griffiths, Clyde Kasatsu. Directed by Jim Goddard.

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Actually, you’re not really all that cool, bud

 

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