Shanghai Affairs (HK 1998)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/14/01
Director: Donnie Yen
Action Director: Donnie Yen
Cast: Donnie Yen, Athena Chu, Yu Rong Guang

Another entertaining low budget action romp from actor/director Donnie Yen, similar in look and feel to his previous "Legend Of The Wolf" (1996) and "Ballistic Kiss" (1998). Tong Shan (Donnie Yen) is a doctor trained in Western medicine who comes to a poor village in Shanghai to open a medical clinic. Unfortunately, Yue (Yu Rong Guang) and his dreaded axe gang want to evict everyone in the village so that they can build a casino there instead. The film wastes no time, and in under three minutes a huge street fight ensues, forcing Tong to exhibit his considerable martial arts skills. And so the rivalry begins... To make matters worse, Yue's sister Shen (Athena Chu?) is suffering from an illness that has left her mute, but Yue has no faith in Western medicine and instead prays to the Fox God for her recovery. After exchanging glances in the market, Shen goes to Tong to see if he can heal her illness, and he operates on her. This infuriates Yue even more, and the conflict between him and Tong only gets worse. Things get even more serious when dead children start showing up, and the trail leads back to Yue. It seems that nothing will resolve their differences other than beating the crap out of each other, which they do quite splendidly. The film ends on a down note, as only it could.

Donnie Yen looks great in this film. He's grown his hair out again, so he doesn't look as old and haggard as he did in "Legend Of The Wolf." He also gets to see a lot of old school kung fu action with veteran fighter Yu Rong Guang, which is a sheer delight after not getting to see them fight in "Ballistic Kiss." The martial arts sequences are energetic, plentiful, and well done - Donnie and Yu still have what it takes. My only complaint is that too many tight shots are employed, obscuring a lot of the actual handwork. Both Donnie and Yu Rong Guang give heartfelt performances, with each character loyal to his convictions and to the people they love. Their fighting seems to serve more as a metaphor for the clashing of Eastern and Western philosophy than it does a conflict between two men. The portrayal of Western medicine is also handled in a clever way, and where Donnie shows us the good aspects of it, the dead children are chilling evidence of its dark and sinister nature. Definitely an enjoyable little outing that suffers only from its budgetary constraints.