This 2013 indie darling set sometime in the near future was filmed in part in Shanghai. To depict a tech-crazed futuristic Los Angeles, director Spike Jonze chose Shanghai’s Lujiazui neighborhood. Watching the movie before coming to Shanghai, you may think the set looks more like a Jetson’s version of the future than something that could actually exist in today’s world, but when you come here, you’ll see that the city really is just light years ahead.
Empire of the Sun
Not only was Empire of the Sun filmed in part in Shanghai, it also takes place in Shanghai. The film, adapted from J.G. Ballard’s acclaimed novel of the same name, tells the story of a British family living in the city during its Japanese occupation. Members of China’s People’s Liberation Army were tapped to play Japanese soldiers, and during scenes that take place at the internment camp, Shanghai’s famous Longhua Temple can be clearly seen in the background.
Perhaps Love (如果爱)h
Perhaps Love, China’s answer to Moulin Rouge, takes place and was filmed in part in Shanghai. The film tells a classic love triangle story with a twist and contains some of the most visually sensational dancing to be captured on film. Listen to the song The Outside World from the film and you’ll instantly fall in love, just as the main characters do.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
This famous Steven Spielberg-George Lucas collaboration may be more India than Shanghai, but any true fan knows that the story begins when, in 1935, Indiana Jones escapes the clutches of a Shanghainese crime boss. The opening scene of the movie was shot in a Shanghai nightclub, named Club Obi Wan in the film.
The Painted Veil
The Painted Veil, adapted from a 1925 novel of the same name, tells the story of British expatriates in Shanghai, Walter and Kitty Fane. As Walter is busy with the study of infectious diseases, Kitty gets wrapped up in her expat life and the two drift apart until a cholera epidemic strikes. The film is shot between Shanghai and China’s rural Guangxi province.
Released in 1932, Shanghai Express is the oldest film to be set in Shanghai. It tells the story of the passengers of a train going from Beijing to Shanghai. On the train, the male protagonist meets a courtesan, played by Marlene Dietrich, whom he discovers is his long lost love. The film is loosely based on a 1923 incident in which a Chinese warlord captured the Shanghai to Beijing express train, where 25 westerners and 300 Chinese were taken hostage.
Suzhou River‘s director, Lou Ye, comes from the “Sixth Generation” of Chinese filmmakers whose typical subject matter is modern China’s gritty urban experience. This film is no different. Rather than feature the glitz and glamour of Shanghai as so many filmmakers choose to, Ye uses the dilapidated factory buildings and abandoned warehouses along Suzhou Creek as the backdrop of a tragic love story between young Shanghainese.
Directed by arguably China’s best filmmaker, Zhang Yimou, Shanghai Triad is set in the criminal underworld of 1930s Shanghai. It tells the story of a provincial boy recruited to be the servant of a gang lord’s mistress. After his politically sensitive film To Live, Zhang was temporarily banned from making movies in China. He decided that his grand re-debut should be a gangster film, which he saw as more conventional.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the movie adaptation of Lisa See’s book of the same name. While the story details the life of a woman in 19th century China, it chooses not to focus on women as victims of footbinding and arranged marriages, but instead takes a feminist approach that challenges viewers to imagine how the women might have found voices of their own within. To achieve this, the 19th century timeline is paralleled with a modern day one set in Shanghai.
Fist of Fury
Fist of Fury is synonymous with Bruce Lee, the film’s star. He plays a student of Jingwu martial arts who meets a Japanese dojo in Shanghai’s Hongkou district during the Japanese occupation of the city. The dojo taunts Jingwu students, calling them and all Chinese men “weaklings.” This fires Lee’s character up, and he later returns to the Hongkou dojo to defeat him. The Chinese-Japanese relationship was extremely fraught during this time in history, and Fist of Fury presents what was likely the fantasy for many Chinese at the time.