It will surprise you that Shanghai Fortress was produced in China for 400 million yuan (@$57 million US) and took six years to complete. Based on the widely popular novel by Jiang Nan (also known as Once Upon a Time in Shanghai). Even with a large budget, top notch creative players, a super star K-Pop singer, and solid source material, Fortress failed to fully deliver on the promise of being a blockbuster success, even in it’s home country. Before you write the film off however read a little further before making that decision.
As to not waste anyone’s time, I was pretty middle of the road on the production as a whole. That is not to say it doesn’t have merit. Any sci-fi fan, especially those who enjoy anime will probably at least be entertained for the 107 minute running time. The delivery of the established source material certainly evoked memories of Macross, Evangelion, or Yamato…where the last hope of mankind comes down to the dedicated crew of a United Earth Defense Corp to face uneven odds against a technologically superior enemy force. With only true hearts, cool uniforms, and perfect hair cuts can our heroes prevail and save Earth. If this all sounds melodramatic, it is…and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with that. It is just for most American audiences (especially those not familiar with Asian entertainment aesthetics), will find this just on the side of corny and overacted. There is of course a completely stilted “love you from afar” romance shoe horned into the plot and that centers around two of heart throb actors in the film, Lu Han (singer from Exo) and Golden Horse Award (don’t laugh, it’s like the East Asian Oscar) winning actress Qi Shu. I felt zero chemistry between these two and just didn’t buy romance aspect of the story at all.
So down to the important part of the film, where stuff blows up and there are aliens & spaceships. The budget was obviously there, however the FX were at times uneven. While all the displays, set pieces, and environmental aspects of the film excelled, the mech and aliens looked down right choppy. I was left wondering if the FX were done in stop motion it was so jerky at times. The designs were interesting enough, but I found the costumes very cliché and unpractical.
The film was so poorly received in it’s home country that it generated a series of public apologies from the creative team. Director Teng Huatao apologized on his social media for letting viewers down. Screenwriter and original novel writer Jiang Nan also apologized online, specifically to the fans of his novel who were disappointed after waiting so long for the film. On August 13, 2019, the producer apologized for using original video material from Shawn Wang in promoting the film.
I still applaud Netflix for seeking out foreign releases that we might not get a chance to see anywhere else. Invisible Guardian, 3%, The Dark, are all excellent offerings available on the streaming service, so someone is doing their job right. Sometimes you have to take the mediocre with the good 😉 All in all I feel that it was the let down that disappointed fans more so than actually how bad the film really was…sort of the way we see the DCEU limping it’s way through the box office…we know it can be done better.