"shanghai express" is the only piece in void among the paramout set of marlene dietrich glamour collection. the mere resource to obtain this dvd copy is european market, and the reason is indisputedly political due to its negative portrait of china then, a hybrid who chooses his yellow side as the mercenary traitor, and also a chinese woman as ravished prostitute. but ironically "shanghai express" is one among the several rare flicks which doesn't present asian character in yellow-face stereotype. and there's hardly any other asian actor/actress in hollywood movies could emulate anna may wong's hard-boiled individuality in it.
it's a story about two prostitutes who go astray from life on shanghai express in china: dietrich chooses the bosom of her former love flame; wong urgently dives into patriotic service to china. it has chinese traitor who schemes to kidnap important foreign official to blackmail the government to revive his position. and dietrich's lover is targeted for sure, then it involves a philandering bargain of self-sacrifice to assure her lover's safety. but it is wong's character who slaughters the villian then be the woman savior of the day. of course, it's guaranteed with crowd-pleasing romantic ending, showcasing dietrich's stocks of glamour to its utmost usage.
first of all. the movie got bombarded by the moral code at its release for its corrupted depiction of female characters. dietrich's shanghai lily and wong's hui feng are all women who earn a living by sex, strutting rampantly on train. as dietrich remarks "respectful people are usually dull". wong pushes the limit with utterance "i don't know the standard of your respectfulness. good-bye", then toss the business card back to a puritanical matron who tries to approach or reform them.
second of all, it has a very derogatory but also realistic delineation of racism then. when wong's character reaches out to shake hands with clive brook courteously, it was rebuffed in a very condescending way. and it also has dialogues like "so you choose the chinese side in you, what's good about it? you eat all the rice in the country and that's what you're gonna be"...but neither of warner oland's chinaman or anna may wong's prostitute abandons their origin to serve any western course.
in one scene, as dietrich attempts to show wong her gratitude for disposing the big villain, wong simply replies "my killing him has no consequence with you, and i did it just to settle his debt to me!" this tense condition has an aroma of chinese xenophobia to foreign influence as if it demostrates outloud: they don't really care the well-being of foreign nations, and they just wanna mind their own business.
third of all, it has some tint of homosexual(or bisexual) innuendos just like most dietrich's movies. when shanghai lily wants to make love clandestinely, she would draw down the curtain for privacy. in scenes which she enters clive brook's chamber and the scenes with anna may wong, the curtain is pulled downward for sure.
"shanghai express" has the classic dietrich glamour in it, and gorgeous costumes form travis banton. undoubtedly, another fashion milestone in marlene dietrich's career. but its political involvement with chinese government censors its existence in china as well as in united states. and consolingly, it still exists becuz of marlene dietrich's star magnitude.