Sign In


8 Movies That Capture the Characters of Shanghai

If you can't get enough of this beautiful city, here are 8 movies that put it back on your screen.
2024-04-16 16:00:00


Originally, Spike Jonze created this sci-fi romance film to imagine the love and relationship between humans and artificial intelligence in the near future. Sadly over 10 years later, we find out now there is no Scarlett Johansson talking back and forth in our headphones. And we always leave a 'thank you' after messaging ChatGPT, in case they take over the world someday. Well, there goes the mystery.

The main and most iconic location of the film is Lujiazui in Pudong. The director believes that the architectural style of Lujiazui, especially the feeling of skyscrapers rubbing shoulders with each other, gives the space a sufficient modern sense, coinciding with his imagination of the future.

Other locations in Shanghai where the film was filmed include the "Giant Egg" in Wujiaochang, which also gives a 'futuristic but you don't know what's going on in there' type of feeling.

Though the reality turned out to be different, this Academy-Award-winning film is definitely worth a watch (if you haven't already). It's quite excellent in terms of story plot and visual effects. And it continuously tried to provide a scenario to the question that many great directors raised before: "If animals are off the table, can we date machines?"

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love (花样年华) is regarded as one of the most iconic Wong Kar-wai's works. Set in Hong Kong in the 1960s, the story explores two strangers gradually getting closer through a complicated relationship.

It's a Hong Kong story from the outside, but mostly showcases Wong's nostalgia for his childhood memories of Shanghai. The shikumen style compound, mahjong, the old record player, the lead actress' cheongsam, and traditional Shanghai dialect... yes, we know when to take a hint.

Wong is famous for his sensitivity towards space and color, which perfectly portrays the cramped living spaces and subtle moods in old Shanghai alleys. The strong Shanghai style carried on throughout the film.

B for Busy

B for Busy (爱情神话) tells the story of three women and a divorced man living in the lanes of Shanghai, exploring people's current views on love and lifestyle. The film won Best Feature Film at the 34th China Golden Rooster Awards.

It's obvious from the beginning when the protagonists are watching a show at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, and talking in full "Shanghainese", that this film will be everything about Shanghai. A good choice if you want to catch something heartwarming and relaxing to watch.

You will probably spot all the iconic roads in the west of Shanghai in this film. Anfu Road, Julu Road, Yongkang Road, Yanqing Road... you name it! The lively atmosphere comes from interesting dialogues among the characters and a lot of details. The elements of villas, terraces, coffee, and butterfly cookies naturally integrate Shanghai's modernity, style, and elegance.

Suzhou River

Suzhou River (苏州河) tells the love story of two young people by the Suzhou Creek and the ups and downs of their fate in the changing times. The film has won both at the 29th Rotterdam International Film Festival and the 15th Paris International Film Festival.

The opening scene of the film is very well known. Director Lou Ye used the subjective perspective of the ship to pan the urban scenery on both sides of Suzhou Creek, and the occasional use of jump cuts strengthened the sense of fragmentation. The muddy river water, the barges on the river, the numb-looking boatmen on board, and the old factory buildings and chimneys on the shore... A typical Shanghai scene in the early 90s, when the city was changing at a fast pace.

Fast forward to now, Suzhou Creek's water has become clearer, and the Oriental Pearl Tower and Jinmao Tower in the background of the film are no longer the tallest building in Shanghai.

Center Stage / Yuen Ling Yuk

Directed by Stanley Kwan, Center Stage tells the legendary life of Chinese silent film actress Ruan Lingyu. The film shows the chaos and darkness of the early film industry, as well as the feudal ideology and oppression of women at that time. The lead actress Maggie Cheung gave an outstanding performance as Ruan Lingyu, for which she won the Best Actress Award at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival and the 28th Golden Horse Awards.

In the movie, the scene where Ruan Lingyu moves into her new home and looks back at the door depicts the beginning of her life at Qinyuan Cun (沁园邨). In 1935, Ruan Lingyu chose to end her own life there. The compound is still located at No. 1124, Lane Xingzha Road, Jing'An.

Flowers of Shanghai

Flowers of Shanghai is adapted from a Wu dialect novel Legends of Shanghai Flowers written by Han Bangqing. But it was when writer Eileen Chang translated it into the Chinese version that the director Hou Hsiao-hsien decided to make it into a movie.

Because the story is about upper-class society in late 19th-century Shanghai, the crew originally hoped to shoot at the actual shikumen location in Shanghai but was later told they were not allowed. So every plot was eventually shot in the indoor environment, to which Hou explained that since the novel depicts a closed world, he might as well give up the outdoor scenes altogether.

All the characters' clothing, jewelry, room furnishings, small objects, and color schemes were all designed to be highly realistic of late 19th-century society. Do take the time to watch it if you're interested.

Lust, Caution

Ang Lee created Lust, Caution (色,戒), this painfully high-toned erotic period espionage romantic mystery film set in occupied Shanghai during World War II. It's well-made and intriguing and all. But again, the naked scenes are there. We have to warn before family viewing.

The movie is based on the 1979 novella of the same name by Eileen Chang. Chang's novel is based on a real historical event: socialite/intelligence agent Zheng Pingru designed to assassinate the spy Ding Mocun. What's described in the novel is roughly accurate as the real event, and the assassination is also a legendary story in Shanghai during the 1940s period.

According to relevant records, the place where Zheng Pingru set up the trap was the First Siberia fur store located in Jing'an. It is still on West Nanjing Road to this day.

Shanghai Fever

Shanghai Fever (股疯) is a 1994 comedy film, starring Pan Hong and Liu Qingyun. The film tells the story of Fan Li, a bus ticket seller, who is determined to change her life through the stock market, but instead gets caught up in a crazy speculative fever that leads to mass hysteria among those around her.

Through Fan Li's story, the film depicts the phenomenon of the whole nation following the trend and engaging in crazy stock speculation in Shanghai during the early 1990s when the Chinese stock market just started developing.

The Bu Gao Li (also goes by the name of Cité Bourgogne) lane where Fan Li lives, with a high-profile closeup shot in the film, is one of the long-standing Shanghai lanes, which was built in 1930 and is located in Lane 287, South Shaanxi Road. The famous writer Ba Jin also once lived here.