Reviews

Shanghai Fortress (2019) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2019.

Subject

In the near future, some years after humans obtain an unstable crystalline power source, aliens wreck their cities until the heroes of Shanghai make two consecutive last stands.

Commentary

It’s supposed to be another Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) or The Wandering Earth (2019), but the authoritarian production model left deeper scars on this one. It comes across as a knock-off of Space: Above and Beyond (1995), not even hitting the beats of Hollywood’s many pre-9/11 apocalyptic SF blockbusters. It has more current CGI, and a couple of those cuts look good (notably the cannon firings and the sinkhole that sublimates real-world ground subsidence in Chinese coastal cities), but almost everything else is blandly terrible, including the inlaid scenes directed like music videos for the Korean-Chinese pop-idol lead.

These romantic scenes do not have the boldness or cultural specificity of masala. Nobody actually bursts into song. Likewise, when a character cries “Impossible!”, this is not an allusion to some specific instance of a Japanese villain crying “masaka”; it is just one of a thousand tropes milled into the flour of this unleavened dough. I do detect traces of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) in how the hypertechnological city—the site of modernity and Chinese wealth—is defended against an inscrutable quasi-organic enemy using quasi-organic subterranean secrets, but there’s no thought to how this pans out.

The filmmakers seem to have aimed this at the many Chinese recently lifted out of dire poverty: People who still aspire to have the lead’s traditional cell phone rather than a smartphone, and don’t recognize how it’s been horribly greebled to look military-grade. It’s interesting that the makers picked such generic international film-culture forms for this effort, but it does not seem to have paid off at the box office.

fiction moving picture