Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DVDebut: Oscar L. Costo's SHANGHAI RED proves juicy, intelligent, moving melodrama

TrustMovies had never heard of the Cuban-born producer, director and (more recently) writer Oscar L. Costo before seeing this guy's movie SHANGHAI RED, but he was impressed enough with that film to try to find out more about Mr. Costo -- who has had, it turns out, a fairly prolific career making movies for TV. Costo has clearly been learning on the job over the decades (he turns 58, I believe, this July 11 -- if anyone wants to send a birthday card), but if this latest concoction is any indication, the recent addition of screenwriting to his resume may be a very good thing. Shanghai Red, a revenge melodrama filmed and set in its titular city, is an almost shockingly enjoyable ride -- at once dreamy and deadly, cold and calculating, and finally surprising and moving in about equal proportions. Oh -- and it is completely involving, too. Paying attention proves easy here.

Careers such as that of Mr. Costo often, I suspect, go unremarked upon, mostly because they take their time to build and do not appear to come out of nowhere and jolt us critics into paying attention to the newest and latest "thing." Shanghai Red, as a matter of fact, compares well with a number of good films that have come out of Hong Kong, while maintaining its own pedigree and distinction. It is the first film that Costo has also written; his second such, Shanghai Blue, has not been released yet, and it will be interesting to see where the filmmaker, apparently using the same stars and vengeance theme, goes this time.

It's been a full eight months since TrustMovies has seen Shanghai Red, so I may be remembering it in flawed fashion. But it left a strong enough impression on me that I want to bring it to your attention. It stars two smart and appealing actors: Vivian Wu (above, from The Joy Luck Club, Heaven and Earth, The Pillow Book and The Soong Sisters) and Richard Burgi (below, mostly from TV roles, but also In Her Shoes and the Fun With Dick and Jane remake). Both actors prove very good as characters that remain mysterious for quite some time. Who are these people? To the film's credit, you'll care enough to stay and find out.

In addition to the revenge plot, there's a family saga, a little charming comedy of Chinese manners (too many cats,  and a scene about a math problem), and enough travelogue-style beauty to have you watching for the scenery alone.

We've got interesting cultural exchanges, an assassin who's also a terrific therapist, and mostly just a great melodrama. If the pieces sometimes seem to fit too neatly together, as often happens with melodrama (that's one of the characteristics that makes it melo-drama, right?) within the movie's framework lies enough life and truth to offer a journey toward revelation that is quite worthwhile.

Shanghai Red, has I think, completed its own theatrical journey around the country, and is (or soon will be) out on DVD.  I was originally told by it's distributor, Indican Films, that it would be available this week, but now, it seems, the release has been delayed three weeks until July 12. You can SAVE it now on Netflix or Blockbuster, or order it from Amazon. Redbox is considering stocking the title, and it will be available via iTunes sometime in September. Give the film a try, readers. It's fun -- and shows a lot of talent both behind and in front of the camera.

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