The Last Tycoon ("Da Shanghai")
Official Selection, New York Film Festival 2013
“[A] classy gangster epic” – TIME OUT HONG KONG
A man sits fanning himself, alone with his photos, alone with his memories. In 1913, at the dawn of China’s Republican era, Cheng Daqi is a plucky poor kid, a fruit-stand employee with little going for him other than a winning smile and a fearless heart full of ambition (and longing for pretty Zhiqui, the aspiring opera performer). A bungled act of revenge for his boss lands Daqi on death row, but he shares his cell with counterrevolutionary agent Mao Zai, who guides Daqi in making his first kill. Daqi is drawn to neon-lit, jazz-age Shanghai, where his dreams of power and privilege spread their wings. He’s soon climbing the ranks of the city’s criminal underworld, a protégé of Shanghai’s top cop (and top crook) Hong. Daqi may have risen far above the lowly streets of his youth, but his past is something he can never truly break with…
No need to reach far for reference points in describing this grand Chinese gangster saga that spans the window of time between the Qing Dynasty and World War 2. Director Wong Jing, with a work far more dignified than his usual lurid filmic fun-park rides, makes no bones about his inspirations — the crime epics of Coppola and Leone, the stylistic flourishes of Johnnie To (a graceful knife-fight under umbrellas) and John Woo (a slow-mo gun battle in a church, for heaven’s sake). And just as the film’s script and direction recall the iconic touchstones of Chinese cinematic history, so does its cast. The charismatic titan of the Chinese screen, Chow Yun-Fat, reunites with Wong for the first time since their classic GOD OF GAMBLERS, and delivers a performance that proves that true gravitas requires a light step. He’s joined by hefty kung fu hero Sammo Hung and the ever-intense Francis Ng — and, as the young Daqi, Huang Xiaoming, a talent worth keeping an eye on. It’s worth noting that this is, for Chow, a return to his roots. The similarly situated Hong Kong TV series of the ’80s, THE BUND, got him started on his own rise to the top of his field.
— Rupert Bottenberg