I bought Shanghai Express back in August, expecting to review it sometime soon. Then I kept seeing other movies on TV, or reading books, and I kept pushing it back, and now here we are in December.
Shanghai Express stars Sammo Hung, who also directed it, and it's a comedy kung-fu western, that's the most succinct description I can give it, though it probably sells it short. Sammo is Cheng Fang Tin (or Ching Fong Tin), a sort of ne'er-do-well who returns to his dying hometown after several years with plans to revitalize it. The plans involve a gambling house and casino, possibly with ladies of the evening, and forcing a trains full of wealthy passengers to stop there (using explosives).
Problem being, there's a trio of Japanese envoys on the train with a valuable map, and a fairly large force of bandits out to get it. There's also a government agent pursuing Cheng, the town's police force was setting fires as cover to rob the bank, and once the fire brigade took over as cops, they began hounding Cheng. The end of the film is a big fight between the various forces of good to drive out the bandits, and get the map back from the Japanese afterward.
The movie is rarely serious, especially any time the thieving police chief is involved, but enough of the gags hit to make it work. There's some good physical comedy, some decent dialogue ("Are you giving this to us? Why are you asking him if you already have it? If he agrees, then it's not robbery."). There's one scene in particular, when an adulterous husband gets caught by his wife (with a woman who isn't his mistress), and the whole bit where he lies his way out of trouble is fantastic. I was rolling on the floor from it, even watching it for the second time.
The fight scenes are pretty high quality. There's enough variation between the people who fight well, with all the punching and awesome flips, and the people who are just flailing around however they can manage. But it all looks good, so the fights work as both comedy and cool fight scenes. And any character can end up on either side of it. And a guy went for the "kick sand in your opponent's eyes to blind him" and ahd it fail completely. Which I don't know if I've ever seen. Usually the bad guy tries it, and it works for awhile until someone shouts encouragement to the good guy and he focuses. This time it didn't even get that far, which was good on novelty alone.
I did feel as though these were meant to be characters with backstories established in earlier films. Like, some of them seem to know each other, or allude to things we don't get to see, and I was supposed to know what was going on already. It doesn't hamper the story, you can follow what's happening now easily enough, it's just that sense I'm missing something.