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Ghost Canyon

'Shanghai Surprise: Special Edition'
(Sean Penn, Madonna, et al / DVD / PG-13 / (1986) 2007 / LGF)

Overview: Glendon Wasey (Sean Penn) is a fortune hunter looking for a fast track out of China. Gloria Tatlock (Madonna) is a missionary nurse seeking the curing powers of opium for her patients. Fate sets them on a hectic, exotic, and even romantic quest for stolen drugs. But they are up against every thug and smuggler in Shangai.

DVD Verdict: OK, first off, what surprised me most about this movie was that it had nothing to do with Shanghai! In fact, my theory is that as one of its producers was George Harrison (formerly of the Beatles), that he gave this film the monetary green light as some form of tax dodge! The writing is confusing in both plot and direction. It veers drunkenly from screwball comedy to action-adventure with no consideration for balance. I have not found any news reports to corroborate this, but I wouldn't be surprised if Asian-Americans didn't pitch a fit over how the Chinese were depicted in this movie. Madonna and Penn are so wrong in their roles and Penn should have known better, but Madonna has earned a reputation for picking projects that are turkeys!

Anywoo, made shortly after the two were married, and amid a frenzy of paparazzi and reporters, the film was supposed to be the vehicle that launched both Penn and Madonna from stars to superstars. Instead it garnered five Golden Raspberry nominations (Worst Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay, Original Song, and Film), and took home the Razzie for Worst Actress of 1986 thanks to Madonna’s performance!

Missionary Gloria Tatlock (Madonna) recruits drunk ruffian tie salesman Glendon Wasey (Penn) to help them find a legendary opium stash known as “Faraday’s Flowers.” Penn doesn’t want to do it, but Madonna is able to bribe him with promises of money and a boat ticket back to Los Angeles. Their quest leads them through the dark underbelly of 1938 Shanghai (which looks a whole lot more like 1986 than 1938, as is especially reflected in Penn’s wardrobe), and puts them at odds with a porcelain-handed Chinese military officer who had been double crossed for the opium stash a year earlier. And of course, Penn and Madonna find love along the way!

In actuality, the plot of 'Shanghai Surprise' is a confusing maze of cliché twists that have you constantly confused as to what the main characters are actually after (we learn that “Faraday’s Flowers” actually refers to a collection of jewels called the “Heavenly Gardens,” only to later learn that the flowers and the gardens are, in fact, two totally separate things), and how in the hell they are connected to the myriad of random supporting characters who seem to pop randomly in and out of the film. Add to this Madonna’s cardboard performance (which feels like she was being read each line just moments before she recited them), and the bizarre score by legendary Beatle George Harrison, and you have all the elements of a bad movie classic ... sorry, Madge!

The film itself had been remastered and given the obligatory special edition Dolby 5.1 treatment. In addition, four special features have been added to enhance your Shanghai experience. But easily the best feature is the “Lights, Camera, Shanghai” segment in which a limited number of cast and crew members, led by Clyde Kasatsu (who played Joe Go in the film), talk about the chaos of filming Shanghai Surprise, working with Penn and Madonna, ... and how awful the movie is! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Remastered 16x9 Widescreen
Fans Unite! Commentary
Lights, Camera, Shanghai!
Madonna: 1986
I LOVE Shanghai Surprise!
English and Spanish Subtitles