How do I know China is a superpower? Besides the massive economy, the massive military, the massive population, and China’s massive effect on world politics? It’s because the Chinese are now making alien invasion movies where they save the day. That is when a nation truly arrives at the forefront — when they can make jingoistic popcorn cinema of the world-saving variety. And, like most American forays into such material, it stinks.
Shanghai Fortress is an adaptation of the sci-fi novel by Jiang Nan, wherein, in the near future, a new energy source called Xianteng has been brought back to Earth by astronauts. It’s a self-replicating energy source, and clean. A new day has dawned for humanity. Except, some aliens get wind of us having Xianteng, and a gigantic spaceship arrives, Independence Day-style, to rain hell on the earth. After five years of conflict, only one major city remains: Shanghai.
On the surface things look mostly the same. The skyline is familiar, with added CGI buildings and doodads here and there. But underneath the great city, the United Nations Defense Council (the Chinese still need to work on their movie jingoism) has built a gigantic Xianteng power-generating facility, that covers the city with an energy field, and feeds a massive laser cannon. By the time the aliens get to Shanghai, they’re in for a fight.
What would a fight with aliens be, without some heroes? They are Lin Lan (Qi Shu), who is some kind of commander. Under her is a squad of drone pilots/cadets/technical personnel/gofers — it’s hard to tell just what they are. Jinglong Han’s screenplay seems to put them wherever the action is, just to keep them in the frame. At various points in the film, they put down aliens and at other times they’re taking readings off of generators. Anyway, these jacks-of-all-trades are Jiang Yang (K-Pop star Han Lu), Pan Hantian (Sen Wang), Zeng Yu (Wang Gongliang), and Lu Yiyi (Jiang Sun). Viewers should be prepared to spend a lot of time with these four.
Director Hua-Tao Teng didn’t waste any time getting things going in this flick. By the time the first huge battle scene is over, the only character development has been Yang’s schoolboy crush on Lin Lan. But don’t fret. After that battle is over, and before the final confrontation with the alien ship, viewers will see a wholesale exploration of Yang’s love. He pines for Lin Lan. He moons over her. He does everything except actually talk to her. This film was criticized upon release in China for being over-reliant on its love story, and I can’t figure out how. Standards and practices must be strict in China, because this romance didn’t involve a single kiss, much less a little flesh or a love scene. If this was supposed to be a love story, I can see why audiences didn’t like it.
They didn’t like much about the rest of the movie, either. Shanghai Fortress was something of a flop upon its release last year. So much so that, get this, its creators apologized on social media for it. But, China’s loss is the shitty movie fan’s gain. Silly and stupid Chinese big-budget flops could be the next hot subgenre of shitty film, overtaking many-headed sharks and weather events filled with many-headed sharks. Buy in, folks. We’re going to be seeing a lot of films like this in the future.
So, remember those aliens? The film gets back to them in the third act, and viewers are treated to a final battle of epic proportions. CGI shit flies all over the screen. Hua-Tao Teng and company appear to be firm believers that a movie becomes more compelling the more stuff one crams onto the screen. I am from the opposite camp, who find such a visual jumble tedious. It makes me tune out what’s happening on screen, rather than become more rapt. There’s a threshold where the brain has had enough, and this film crosses it dozens of times. By the end, after the aliens are vanquished, Shanghai is left in ruins, and four of the five main characters have bitten the dust, I was left despairing. This is the kind of shitty movie China is going to give to the world from now on? A cheap knockoff of Independence Day? I suppose that makes sense, actually.
Step up your game, China. Hong Kong filmmakers are masters of the shitty movie, and have been since the early days of cinema. Learn from them.
Who would have thought so many explosions and lasers and aliens and stuff would be boring? But it is. The acting stinks, the story stinks, the dubbing and the subtitles stink, and the CGI would have been spectacular in 1994. I hated all the characters, and smiled when each one met their demise. This is a despicable shitty movie watch. As such, it tumbles way down the Watchability Index, displacing the 2002 remake of Rollerball at #247. Stay away.