Monday, March 26, 2007

The Post-Modern Life of My Aunt: Shanghai in the Movies

This will be one of several upcoming posts to look at movies which look at Shanghai, joining my take on The Goddess. I enjoy seeing familiar sights in movies or TV shows, it can make even the worst movies at least watchable - for instance, having Bollywood film star Aishwarya Rai kicking it within walking distance of my old Oaktown digs was the only thing that made "Mistress of Spices" worthwhile.

I don't want to compare "The Post-Modern Life of My Aunt" to that stinker, but it was another movie where the characters and events were overshadowed by the setting. That was partly on purpose: the aunt's life is post-modern, but the film has an expressionist streak, with the setting and environment reflecting the fortunes of the lead character.

The filming of the movie was extraordinary, extremely beautiful and capturing a number of Shanghai's distinctive elements very well, without a glance at Shanghai's tourist skylines. The picture to the right (of stars Chow Yun-Fat and Gaowa Siqin) is located at the pedestrian overpass of Yan'an Lu, very near my apartment. In the background can be seen unlicensed street sellers, in this case a girl hawking pocketbooks. I'm very curious, are these real hawkers paid not to stare at the camera, or did they pay actors to imitate hawkers? Either way it looks genuine. More sellers can be seen, with their blankets spread along the ground. The Shanghai Exhibition Center is peaking out, in the back right.

Most of the movie is set somewhat North of the Bund, and in the Hongkou district, a part of town I'm not entirely familiar with. I believe this is the restaurant street of Zhapu Lu.

Look at the bok choy all stacked up circularly like that, and the cool Aloha shirt! Some shopworkers kneel in the background, talking story while they clean vegetables in dirty water. I have no problems imagining passing by this street scene.

Here's a related picture of street sellers. I also like the bicyclist in the technicolor raincoat.

This scene interested me: I'm not familiar with the Hongkou district, and I wonder if some early scenes were actually filmed in Beijing. I don't think so, and certainly the old building with irregular air conditioning units sticking out in a completely irregular pattern is something you see everywhere in the area. On the other hand, the shot seems to stretch across - a big parking lot. That I just can't imagine, not in Shanghai, no way!

Update 2/9/09 - Perhaps I spoke too rashly, this is right off Sichuan Bei Lu, near Wuchang Lu (a little North of Suzhou River), and here's a picture:

A picture of an older brick apartment building, done up with the distinctive pattern of orange and grey bricks. If the Shanghai government had any sense they would make it part of some loose building code for the city.

And finally, what a beautiful shot, of a woman eating noodles at a local hole in the wall joint. Just seeing this picture makes me miss living more in the outskirts of town. Central Shanghai is too snooty for this sort of place.

The movie isn't generally sold in the US, but is available as a bootleg from the usual sources, including as an emule download (which requires an emule downloading program) with English and Chinese subtitles, on verycd. The site is in Chinese, but it's easy, click the button below and to the left of the list of files in order to download. Here's the seriously ill-concieved trailer. The movie is somewhat problematic, but really not as boring as this:

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