Shadow of China – Film Review #johnlone

Shadow of China – Film Review #johnlone

Starring:  John LoneKôichi SatôSammi Davis
Writers:  Masaaki Nishiki (novel), Richard Maxwell (screenplay)
Director: Mitsuo Yanagimachi
IMDb ranking & storyline: 6.4/10

A Chinese political refugee tries to make his way to the top as a businessman in Hong Kong while his former radicalism is transformed into cynicism. His past comes back to haunt him.

As I am nearing the end of my John Lone film reviews, I thought I would save this one to one of the last that I view. Specifically as its set in Hong Kong and I will be returning there in only a few months and like to see it as I would’ve known it.  This film was shot in 1989 only a few years before I arrived to live. To note this was pre-M.Butterfly and post Emperor – I must admit I find this film sitting quite oddly between them, like how I once felt watching Strictly in the studio once in the celebrity section, another story for another time.

I’ve seen this movie a few times before and sad to say feel a little disappointed each time I watch it and its nothing to do with John’s performance in it, but everything else surrounding his central character.  Pen in hand I made notes while I watched it again,  pulling out the gem moments for me and, as ever, these are my personal thoughts as a viewer.  I know many John ‘fans’ rate this film as one of his best,  but not for me, I am totally shocked it ranks higher than Iceman on IMDb.

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Love this shot

To me, this is one film where you are treated to some beautiful scenes, most memorably the dancing scenes to then some scenes where the dialogue seemed to struggle awfully and be convincing at all. I even felt that the characters didn’t have much chemistry between them, aside from Henry (Lone) and his English mistress, Katharine (Davis). Again I disagree with the majority of John ‘fans’ who feel these characters had no chemistry – I think they did. They were everything a clandestine affair should be, no emotions, no attachments, just living what it is in that moment. I loved their scene in the rain most of all, it was romantic and carefree.

Here I have jumped ahead of myself, we start the film with a young couple fleeing China for Hong Kong (Moo-ling played by Vivian Wu).  You can see how treacherous this journey is, where the guards are mocking prisoners in the street (and they kill a pig – this scene horrified me to be honest). You can see that they are a loving couple but in the chaos to get to freedom, they get separated.

Years later  we see Henry has turned into a Richard Branson type billionaire, and very much seen as the ‘hero of Hong Kong’. It transpires he is an investment banker that he has made his money by dubious means and hot on his tails is a Japanese journalist, wanting to expose Henry’s past.  Hot on his tails may be a slight over exaggeration,  I wish this character, Akira, (Kôichi Satô) wanted to break the story more than he portrayed, this just didn’t convince me.

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John throwing the script over the balcony potentially

Akira also was attempting to woo Moo-ling too, now a singer in a HK bar, this again was unconvincing to me.  Moo-ling only seems to recognise Henry at a party in Hong Kong while she is attempting to help Akira find the elusive Henry Wong.  If he was as a local huge hero as told, then surely she would’ve known who he was.  They had both been in Hong Kong for 13 years and this had eluded her thus far, impossible.

There are some beautiful shots of Hong Kong in the movie and I love the scene where Henry is discussing buying a newspaper with his adviser and Katharine appears on the balcony holding the hugest 80’s mobile phone in the world to her ear.  Taunting him she had bought some special undies, I wonder now if she would have been wearing those undies in the scene rather than the new frock? The adviser has a great line in this scene “I am just a gwailo, I know nothing of course“.  I remember feeling that so many times in my life in Hong Kong myself, I must admit I look forward to feeling that again in a few months.

Henry as a character I liked, he was ruthless and likable, had no morals underneath and a shady past which others were trying to connect the pieces.  This movie had so much potential, specifically with Henry’s suspected Japanese heritage thrown in and the war crimes committed by his Father.  It had so much it could’ve delivered.  I also felt that someone of Henry’s status wouldn’t walk the streets alone without bodyguards, especially with the triads as opposition in the auction.

The first two thirds of the film I would love to re-write (that sounds awfully pompous – but I’d love to give that a shot).  Too many wasted opportunities with the supporting characters around Henry, specifically the triad boss.  I just wished he’d been meaner than he was.

As Henry waves goodbye to his English floozy (who decided to go back to her poor husband in Australia) he hooks up with his old love Moo-ling. Reconnected and reunited – she can’t protect him from the newspaper headlines of his past. A shoot out ends with the wrong person getting shot (IMO that should’ve totally been Akira), Henry has to flee and he returns, with Akira’s help, to where it all begun, China.  I liked the circular ending I must admit.

Watch out for a young Sam Neill in the movie too.. I loved his line ” Thank you Henry… prick!”

I’d love to know if John liked the final version of this movie?  I wonder if he wanted to return to HK/China at that stage of his career or something he just wanted to do in his hometown.

Favourite scene in the movie hands-down is John’s dancing scene with the elders:

Happy weekend folks.

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