STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $19.98
Fans Unite! commentary
• Lights, Camera, Shanghai!
• Madonna: 1986
• I Love Shanghai Surprise!

The Pitch

“It’s Romancing the Stoned!”

The Humans

Madonna (Body of Evidence), Sean Penn (We’re No Angels), Paul Freeman (The Long Good Friday), Richard Griffiths (Withnail & I), Clyde Kusatsu, Kay Tong Lim, Sonserai Lee, Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China), Professor Toru Tanaka (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure)

"Whaaat? Wut’s wruaawng wid my accent?"

The Nutshell

A missionary (Madonna) and a drifter (Penn) are forced to cooperate as they track down a mislaid cache of opium in Japanese-occupied China. Boy, they sure get on each other’s nerves. I mean, she’s a missionary… and he’s a drifter. Why, that could never work out! It’s screwball, I tell you! Screwball!

"Anachronistic? You ignorant prick! I’ll have you know this is an authentic 1938 Eastern
Seaboard mullet! Do your freakin’ research!"

The Lowdown

So somebody thought it would be a good idea to put a just-married, tabloid-target celebrity couple together in a movie where they yammer at each other the whole time. Well, we can’t all be the Burton-Taylors. Really, all you need to know about this movie is that the “Shanghai Surprise” of the title is in fact a kind of bomb.

It mystifies me how Penn, one of our most versatile and inventive actors, seems to end up doing a Bowery Boys impersonation whenever he appears in a period film. This role is no exception, but in his defense maybe he was just following his then-wife’s lead. At least her performance is exactly as inept as expected.

Out of the over-qualified supporting cast, only Kusatsu, as baseball-batty gangster Joe Go, manages to transcend stereotype. The late great Victor Wong is barely onscreen long enough to make an impression one way or the other. Executive producer George Harrison (yes, that one) can be glimpsed briefly as a bandleader in a nightclub.

Constable Tokugawa rose rapidly through the ranks in spite of his parasitic twin’s lack of enthusiasm.

The Package

Give Lionsgate credit—they know when to fold ‘em. This is the unusual case of a studio marketing a film by openly ridiculing it—the only other disc I can think of offhand is Mommie Dearest. The supplements vary in their derision, from Kusatsu’s fond remembrance of his participation in Lights… to the assortment of stand-up comics interviewed in I Love Shanghai Surprise (Sandra Valls‘s riff on the Porcelain Hands Man is especially funny) to the audio commentary provided by a select group of, um, Madonna enthusiasts who don’t know the film very well at all. I mean, really—when cult actors Griffiths and Freeman appear onscreen together, what sort of movie fans instantly recognize Mr. Dursley but have no idea who Belloq is?

Oh… right.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

"Pardon me old chap, have you seen our delightful leading lady… OhIbegyourpardon."

3 out of 10