Shuisheng (Wang Xiaoxiao) is a villager whose family has ties to the mob. When he reaches adolescence his uncle summons him to Shanghai to work as a minder/maid for Jingbao (Gong Li) a nightclub singer and the mistress of powerful mobster Tang (Boatian Li). Innocent and unworldly Shuisheng takes up his new role with trepidation. He soon learns that Tang is a ruthless gangster who will stop at nothing to get what and who he wants.
When a fight with a rival gang goes sour, Tang and his entourage escape the city for a deserted hideaway. Here, Shuisheng begins to fully appreciate the fragility and humanity that Jingbao’s life forces her to abandon. They befriend a peasant woman and her daughter and just when Shuisheng and Jingbao seem to ground themselves back in reality, their world is turned upside down.
Many commentators have drawn parallels between Yimou’s 1930s Shanghai to modern China. While the director has been opaque on the overtly political nature of the film he has commented on the pursuit of materiality in contemporary China. In 1996 when the film was released Yimou said, “I think the country (China) will become more materialistic. I’m interested in asking the question: as our livelihood improves, how can we maintain our more human side?”
All the glamour and excess of 1930s Shanghai bursts onto the screen in Zhang Yimou’s adaptation of Li Xiao’s popular novel, Gang Law.
Intricately staged and sumptuously photographed, Shanghai Triad was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 1996 Academy Awards® and won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.