The Longest Night in Shanghai
Vicki Zhao Wei, Masahiro Motoki, Sam Lee Chan-sam
Director: Zhang Yibai
Shanghai's nightscape is given an atmospheric showcase in this offbeat comedy-drama about a male Japanese makeup artist and a female taxi driver. He wanders the city's streets, lost in translation, until the perky cabbie finds him.
It's a connection that subtly changes both their lives, along with those around them, and one of the more interesting examples of the frequently cliche-ridden 'clash of cultures' sub-genre.
Director Zhang Yibai explored the personal side of Sino-Japanese relationships in About Love (2005), and again avoids the stereotypes in his depiction of the brief but emotionally charged encounter between driver Lin Xi and stylist Naoki Mizushima (Vicky Zhao and Masahiro Motoki, below left).
The picture gets off to a rocky start, with the leads' initial meeting appearing contrived and Zhao's acting overly cutesy. The director's attempts to weave the main tale with intersecting subplots, in which the two cross paths with colleagues and acquaintances, is laden with semi-realised potential.
The secondary characters, including a loony agent (Naoto Takenaka), dubious interpreter (Sam Lee), and kung fu-loving policewoman (Zhang Xinyi), are amusing but under-utilised.
Matters improve markedly as the picture progresses and the 'strangers in the night' (sung on the soundtrack) begin to understand each other. Lin and Mizushima lead parallel emotional lives: she has an unrequited crush on a car mechanic (Dylan Kuo) and he has unresolved issues with his fiancee/manager (Naomi Nishida). But as dusk turns to dawn and they make the transition to unspoken friendship, they both attain a new perspective on life and love, and the viewer has a deeper appreciation of the variegated wonderland of night-time Shanghai.