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Shanghai Triad (June 25, 2000)

This past Sunday would be the third time that I saw Shanghai Triad, and this time was definitely quite a different experience.  The first time I watched this movie, I viewed it with my mother.  We both felt the oppressive force of the film and the heart wrenching emotion that the director intended to make the audience feel.  The power of the first viewing was incredible - it was overtly depressing, but too frustrating and humbling to allow tears to flow.

The second time I viewed the film on my own, and I just reconfirmed my prior judgment and my opinion that the Chinese culture is just purely sadistic.

Strangely enough, the third time around carried brought a different perspective to my eyes.  I watched this movie with My Favorite (a blue eyed individual but denies that he is white), and his Machiavellian philosophy denies the emotional impact of the movie.  But before I go any further, let me give you a quick run down.

A boy from a rural province in China is sent to the city of Shanghai to serve the mistress (portrayed by Gong Li) of the leader of the Chinese Black Market.  The movie is seen through the eyes of the little boy to provide the objective third person perspective.  The use of the little boy is ingenious because it allows the movie to run linearly through the time span of a full week.

My Thoughts:
   The Crime Boss Being The Ultimate Villain

   He is incredibly intelligent, but he's ruthless, selfish and cruel.  His success is due to his intelligence and strict cold -hearted traditions, while his pleasure depends on the exploitation of wholesome, innocent people.  
   The first half of the movie is a synopsis of the first few days of the week when the boy is introduced to the Shanghai scene.  The audience sees the mistress's lifestyle, and her cruel, self centered, attention seeking exterior.  With the boy's uncle (his mentor who had brought him to Shanghai) died protecting the Crime Boss during a confrontation with a rival gang, the Crime Boss's gang retreats to an island off the coast of Shanghai.  Their stay on the island is the pivotal point of the movie.
   This is where the audience sees the mistress's true, wholesome nature.  The director also introduces three new characters into the movie.  A woman and her daughter live on the island, and cooks the Crime Boss's meals.  The mother and daughter pair is a vivid display of innocent happiness.  They do not have much, but their purity, selflessness, and complete lack of greed makes them happy with their little existence.
   Because of the Crime Boss's ruthless nature concern with his own success, he kills the mother's soon to be living partner that visited her one night during the week.  Then, after admiring the beautiful little girl, he planned to take her back to the city with him, to raise her so that she will one day be his mistress.  With this in mind, he conveniently kills the mother of the chills under the pretense of his own security.  Because his mistress had spent one evening chatting with the woman, he assumes that his mistress had divulged too much information about him, so his murder was an act of self-defense more or less.
   He is the devil incarnate.  He imprisons people to his world, takes possession of their souls and chains them to an existence of subservience and loyalty.  He exploits the good for his own pleasures, while his intelligence and obedience to tradition guides him to success.  The minute he touches an individual is minute that individual loses all freedom and sovereignty.  
   The young boy he had hired to be his mistress's servant wanted to earn a little bit of money so that he can go back to his mother and open a tofu store.  He did not know that upon his departure, his small dream would be shattered.  The little girl that will one day become a mistress did not that her future lover (who will be at least 70 by the time she sees 20) had single handedly killed her mother and her innocence.

The Influence of the Unethnic One (aka My Favorite)
After being told that my perception is too black an white, the Unethnic One splashed a some colors on this character for me to see

    The Crime Boss is very much like the devil.  He does not force any of his subordinates into slavery, but he tempts them into it.  His ruthlessness is what made him successful.  His measures of precaution are at the expense of violator's life.  Once you are with him, then you must be loyal.  If you are loyal, follow tradition and rules, you will be rewarded.  The stipulation is the intensity of the restrictions his rules and traditions are, and the fact that you unknowingly sacrifice your sovereignty for unspoken promise of a possible life in the lap of luxury.
    The topic of debate is whether or not the Crime Boss is pure evil.  Under the Machiavellian philosophy, he is not.  His exploitation of rural people may be evil, but it is the only safe measure to enjoy certain pleasures that the Black Market operated 1930s China would allow.  A woman's love by anybody in the city is questionable because she might be working for an opposing gang, so the safest way is to raise a child from rural areas to become your mistress.  The ruthless killings are just precautious measures to ensure your own longevity and success.
    So the question that the Unethnic One poses is: Givent that the devil only provides temptation and does not force pain and suffering onto people, then is it accurate to say that the devil is pure evil?