A wonderful send-up of
both BACK TO THE FUTURE and the classic "Shanghai Beach"
TV series (which made stars out of Chow Yun-fat and Ray Lui Leung-wai;
the latter reprises his role here), this remains one of Stephen Chiau
Sing-chis best outings. Following his humiliating defeat in
the previous film, Mainland gambling master Tai-kun (John Ching Tung)
and his men try to murder Sing (Chiau) and Tat (Ng Man-tat). They
fail but, after Sing engages in a psychic duel with Tai-kun, the pair
disappear in a burst of energy and Sing finds himself in 1937 Shanghai.
There, he meets Tat's effeminate grandfather, Chow Tai-fook (also
Ng), and Ding Lik (Lui), the powerful crimelord and confederate of
the late Hui Man-keung. Sing accidentally kills Tiger Lui (the gangster
who had murdered Hui the night before), earning him the favor of Ding,
who is being challenged by another competitor, Wong Kam-kwai (Lung
Fong). Sing falls head over heels for beautiful socialite Yu-san (Gong
Li) but it is actually her twin sister, Yu-mong (who has the IQ of
a five year old, and is also played by Gong), that he ends up dating.
Wong allies himself with a Japanese VIP (Wong Wan-si) in a plot to
seize Ding's casino, using their secret weapon: Tai-kun. Sing is able
to save the day but a re-match is announced and the opposition produces
a weapon that even Sing may not be able to counter: the legendary
French God of Gamblers.
"Shanghai Beach" (or The
Bund, as it is officially known in English) is not available with
English subtitles, so Western viewers will not be able to appreciate
most of the references to it here. Regardless, much of the humor is
readily accessible and the production design and costumes are gorgeous,
making the silly goings-on all the more enjoyable. The twins subplot
is overly contrived but it is great fun watching Gong Li romping through
the scenery as the dim-witted, but ever-smiling, Yu-mong (she would
appear again opposite Chiau two years later in FLIRTING SCHOLAR).
Writer/director Wong Jing adheres well enough to the doctrines of
time travel movies, incorporating some wonderful anachronisms (Sing
has a cell phone with him and can call people in the present and there
is a terrific musical parody of McDonalds' restaurants), and the ending
delivers the sort of twist that makes the best of these gambling films
so satisfying. Writer/actor Barry Wong Ping-yiu appears briefly in
a hilarious reprise of his cement-headed cop character from the FIGHT
BACK TO SCHOOL films. The terrific supporting cast also includes Sandra
Ng Kwan-yu, Charles Heung Wah-keung, Tien Feng, Shaw Brothers veteran
Yeung Ching-ching (as Ding's tough but lovely bodyguard), Peter Chan
Lung, Lau Shun, and Billy Chow Bei-lee. Wong Jing and Sharla Cheung
Man also have fitting cameos.