TL;DR – There is an interesting concept here, but the film goes out of its way to make its characters come off as bland and one-note
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene
It has been an interesting couple of years for the Alien Invasion genre after being almost abandoned in the years since September 11. Long gone were the triumphant speeches and bold proclamations and in were gritty scenes of dirt and muck. However, then there was a resurgence with different countries taking a look with Attack the Block in the UK and Occupation in Australia to name just two. Well, today we get to see China’s take on the global destruction masterpiece. But will it soar or will fall, only time will tell.
So to set the scene, in the not too distant future the first manned Chinese space ship brought back a new energy source Xianteng that revolutionised the world. Everything was great but the energy source was like a beacon drawing the aliens to Earth. Starting with Rio de Janeiro the mothership moved across the planet, destroying city after city. In a last-ditch effort, the United Nations and what was left of the world’s government set up base in the last major centre Shanghai. Here they hope to make a last stand and maybe just maybe fight back and take back the planet before more cities like Los Angeles and New Delhi are turned to ash.
One area that really shows the inconsistencies of the film is in its production that swings wildly from fascinating to poor. There were moments like when a bot was carving its way through a whole platoon of troops that was expertly choreographed and really tense. To add to this a lot of work has gone into making the HUD CGI and physical props blend together. However, this is contrasted with a lot of special effects, especially those out of the big set-piece moments looking really poor. I do mean poor because some of the debris like exploding cars looks so noticeable fake that it pulls you out of the film. On the plus side, the design of all the alien ships and mechs was really solid as with the practical design of the Earth military tanks.
This also extends to the soundscape of the film. There are times when it is clearly apparent that an actor has been overdubbed because the lips and voice to not match up at all. Indeed, it might just have been the version I watched, but it felt like the film’s sound mixing was really off and needed another pass. This is added to by a soundtrack that repeats the same musical motif so many times that it loses its impact in the first twenty minutes. As it goes on, the score focuses on this single piano/violin combination and it just felt like it was missing something to make it come together.
is a film that has a lot going on, there is a mix of the Alien Invasion with
several different love stories, and complications going on. You can tell with
how stilted the story is that there are many times when then the film has to
stop and give a voice-over exposition to explain what is going on. Part of this
was just the overly faceted story that they were trying to tell, but part of it
was just the lack of connecting tissue. This is combined with the lack of
character building and leads to a real emotional disconnect.
All of this is a pity because it means that there is just no emotional connection between the characters and the viewer. Not of the characters are bad or annoying, just bland or one-note. Earlier this year we reviewed another Chinese Science Fiction epic The Wandering Earth which had the opposite problem of having very memorable character, just they were all annoying. It is actually interesting to see the dichotomy between the two films. While I think I started to actively root for Jupiter to finish us all off, here I found it all interesting but I just didn’t care when any of the characters died because the film did not support them enough to make me care. Even if they did have a slightly less ridiculous ending than Independence Day.
In the end, do we recommend Shanghai Fortress? Unfortunately, probably not. It is not a bad film, but any stretch of the imagination, but it is not a good one either. Through its story and other factors it goes out of its way to put up a barrier between the characters and the audience. This blunting of the emotional impact that is at the core of this genre really effects the film and is probably the main reason I would suggest giving something else a watch.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
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or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Shanghai Fortress
Directed by – Teng Huatao
Story by – Jiang Nan
Screenplay by – Han Jinglong & Teng Huatao
Based on –Shanghai Fortress by Jiang Nan
Music by – Dong-jun Lee
Cinematography by – Geoffrey Simpson
Edited by –Angie Lam
Production/Distribution Companies – China Film Group Corporation, Tencent Pictures & Netflix
Starring – Han Lu, Qi Shu, Godfrey Gao, Vincent Matile, Liang Shi Leon, Sen Wang, Jialing Sun, Gongliang Wang, Zao Wang & Steven Weathers
Rating – Around an Australia: M;