Shanghai Surprise (1986) (part 4 of 11)

The rickshaws take them to a group of men who seem to be excitedly watching, and even placing bets on, two crickets fighting in a bowl. Seriously. Hey, before YouTube, people had to improvise. Sean wants to join the betting, and Madonna also finds this “deplorable”. Good god. I get that she’s got some über-morality thing going, but is she really getting high and mighty over the lives of insects? Someone give this woman a personality transfusion, stat!

Caption contributed by Albert

Duking it out to see who gets to be heard chirping in theaters showing Shanghai Surprise.

But Sean convinces her to hand over some cash, saying he’s just trying to “loosen some lips”. Now, now. Let’s not get dirty-minded just yet, folks. There’s lot of time for that later. Sean places a bet and calls out, “Come on, Jiminy, whip his ass!” Which so far, is the closest thing this movie has to a genuinely funny line. Of course, it’s supposed to be 1938, and Disney’s Pinocchio didn’t come out until 1940, but I’ll take my amusement, which is not even really that amusing, where I can get it.

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Sean starts asking around about Wu Ch’en She. He shows a piece of paper with the guy’s name written on it, and everyone reacts by spitting on the ground. That’s not good. I’m guessing Wu sent out some particularly cheap gift baskets last Christmas.

Caption contributed by Albert

“Mister, I don’t know why you’re carrying a piece of paper that says ‘HOCK A LOOGIE’, but I’m sure happy to oblige.”

And then we learn that “Wu Ch’en She” is the trigger phrase to incite an unruly mob, because the men all lose interest in the cricket fight, and start menacingly approaching Sean and Madonna, without even bothering to divide up into Jets and Sharks. As they angrily toss sticks and stones at the two of them, Sean and Madonna hurriedly hop back in their rickshaws and take off. And again, the mob just stands there helplessly watching them go, almost as if they weren’t getting away at the speed of a guy running on foot. And it’s a good thing those rickshaw drivers were busy listening to their iPods and didn’t hear the trigger phrase, or else Sean and Madonna would have experienced a well-deserved pummeling by now.

Caption contributed by Mark

A scene from the unreleased Newsies II: This Time It’s Personal.

A minute ago, we saw that there was one white guy among the gamblers, a tall guy with a slight resemblance to Adrian Brody. As Madonna and Sean escape down a crowded street, they turn around and see Adrian Brody Guy pursuing them on his own rickshaw. So Sean bribes their rickshaw pullers into… pulling faster. Honestly, if they really want to lose the guy, why don’t they just hop off and duck into an alley? I didn’t think I would ever see anything lamer than the bicycle chase in Time Chasers, or the floor-waxer pursuit in Space Mutiny, but this rickshaw chase is giving them both a run for their money.

Caption contributed by Mark

Shanghai’s innovative rickshaw toilets do lack a certain element of privacy.

It gets even dumber, because suddenly the director starts trying to mimic a typical action movie car chase. Sean and Madonna’s rickshaws narrowly slide by a big wagon passing in front of them, which is loaded up with baskets. But Adrian Brody’s rickshaw doesn’t stop in time, and the rickshaw puller goes under the cart, while Adrian himself gets launched into the baskets. See, it’s just like a big semi pulling out in front of Smokey’s car, don’t you get it? Isn’t that a hoot? And yes, the baskets are full of roosters, as if you couldn’t have guessed.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Uh, looks like the problem is with your transmission.”

Finally, Adrian Brody grows a brain cell, and decides to follow them on foot. But a little less wisely, he’s randomly shoving pedestrians out of the way. Which makes no sense, because the center of the road is almost completely clear of traffic. I guess it makes it feel more like a “chase” to him, if he can shove people around and send baskets of fruit flying. Either that, or Shanghai had really strict jaywalking laws.

He finally catches up to the rickshaws, so Sean leaps off, pinning the guy to the ground. Sean’s just about to give him the paparazzo treatment, when Adrian Brody pulls out his business card. In a vaguely French accent, he says he can help them locate a “certain gentleman”.

Caption contributed by Mark

Sean Penn moonlights as Halle Berry’s bodyguard.

Madonna walks up and asks if he can help them find Wu Ch’en She. Adrian immediately shushes her. Sean asks, “Why does everybody get their peckers in a vise when you mention Wu Ch’en She?” Peckers in a vise? Ouch. He certainly knows how to turn a phrase, doesn’t he? A disturbing turn, to be sure, but still a turn. I wonder if mentions of Wu Ch’en She also get people’s cookies in a squisher.

Adrian says Wu Ch’en She is a “renegade swindler” who owes a lot of people money. He used to be a law-abiding swindler, but then his cricket died and he went really bad. For a “small fee”, Adrian can take them to someone who might know where Wu is. And then… we immediately cut to the three of them in a taxi, going to see that person. Hey, time’s a-wasting. Adrian says his friend sells insurance, and tries to convince them it’s local custom to do business with a person before asking for information.

Adrian brings them up to a dilapidated office and introduces them to an English speaking man named Ho Chong. Adrian gets paid off and promptly skedaddles out of there.

It seems Ho Chong specializes in insuring only the parts of the body that customers deem “most precious”. Apparently, his policies include “the armpits”—like, huh?—”the genitals, and both ankles”. He says this while pointing at those body parts on an anatomical chart. This makes Madonna uncomfortable, and she continually bristles at the repeated mentions of “genitals”. You don’t think her character was meant to be uptight, do you?

Finally, to get the whereabouts of Wu Ch’en She, Sean agrees to take out an insurance policy on his genitals. That’s a sensible thing to do, when you’re having sex with Madonna. Then Ho Chong calls Madonna “Reverend Lady” and tries to get her to insure her “treasured parts”. You know, I’m trying to think of which parts Madonna actually treasures, and coming up blank.

He steps over to an anatomical female drawing. (I bet he spends his quiet afternoons just staring at these drawings, if you know what I mean.) Tapping his pointer against the drawing’s chest, he asks if she’d like to insure her “twin pagodas”. Madonna grows more irate. He points at the drawing’s crotch and asks, “Surely you wish to protect your haven of celestial bliss?” I doubt she would’ve banged Dennis Rodman if that were the case.

Caption contributed by Albert

“See? This is way more explicit than your Sex book! I’ll make millions!”

She stands up, fully outraged, while Sean quips that her “haven’s not in much danger”. Oh, so chaste is she. Is anybody buying this yet? Sean finally works everything out, and says she’ll insure her “twin pagodas”, and Madonna forks over the cash. And I’ll bet the mission collection boxes did not carry a warning that said, “May be used to insure Madonna’s twin pagodas.”

Ho Chang says he’s going to take them to the home of Wu Ch’en She, and soon they’re down at a rundown fishing boat. Madonna is grossed out to the max by the shoddy conditions and the smell of fish. Ho Chang calls down into the interior of the boat, but Sean keenly notices there’s nobody in there. Ho Chang says they should “rectify” that, and predictably shoves the two of them down into the boat, where they land in a tank of fish. Before leaving, he angrily warns them that the next time, “the cargo could be sharks!”

Boy, it sure is odd that people hate Wu Ch’en She so much that not only do they want to kill him, but they want to kill anybody who comes looking for him. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, really. Unless the entire country of China is punking Sean and Madonna, and there really is no Wu Ch’en She. Which is certainly possible.

Thankfully, we’re spared any scenes of them having spiteful banter while struggling to get out of the fish tank. Instead, we cut to a public bathhouse, where both Sean and Madonna are cleaning themselves up. Oh yes. When I think cleanliness, I think public bathhouse. They’re both in separate baths, of course, one for men and one for women. We cut back and forth between them, and in both cases, Chinese men and women flee from Sean and Madonna, scrambling out of the baths and holding their noses at (presumably) the odor of fish. Or perhaps they read the reviews.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Wait a minute, there’s no birthday party for me here!”

As Sean scrubs himself down, Adrian Brody Guy appears. Sean does some more of that uncontrolled screaming that he does so well, while Adrian “cutely” explains why he brought a basket of tomatoes. In case you care, the Chinese consider tomato juice the “only suitable antidote” to the smell of fish.

Despite this favor, Sean merely reuses another of his paparazzi chestnuts: “When I get out of this tub, I’m gonna beat you like a redheaded stepchild!” Why does he want to beat up DS9 like that? Adrian blathers that he saved Sean’s life by bringing him to the “Red Society”, because the “Green Society” would have slit their throats. Really? Slit their throats, huh? I always thought they were more about planting trees and solar power and Ralph Nader driving an electric car, but I guess you learn something every day.

Sean can’t believe all of this is happening over the dad of a wounded soldier. Finally, Adrian reveals that Wu Ch’en She has no sons. Immediately, Sean is outside the public baths, confronting Madonna about this. Now dressed in traditional Chinese garb, Madonna confesses that there is no wounded soldier.

“A missionary lying!” Sean screams. “It’s like pissing all over God’s uniform!” Wait, God wears a uniform? Does he work at Dairy Queen or something? Let’s hope he’s not one of those gods where it’s blasphemy to write his name, because it’d be a bitch to come up with a name tag for him.

Madonna starts to expositionize frantically. She talks about all the tens of thousands of soldiers who are suffering from a “shortage of morphine”, and how a year ago, Wu Ch’en She betrayed his master Walter Faraday, stealing “1,100 pounds of opium”.

Meanwhile, as she talks, there are shots of stray cats eagerly circling her feet. Get it? Because she smells like fish! That’s one of those jokes where it takes you a little while to get it, and when you do, you immediately wish you hadn’t.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Mittens said she smelled fish out here, but all I smell is flop sweat.”

But it seems Sean has actually heard of Faraday. “The Walter Faraday? The Opium King?”

Before she can get much farther, Sean realizes she’s looking for “Faraday’s Flowers”, which he likens to “El Dorado, and the Lost Dutchman Mine! They don’t exist either!” Yes, but I don’t think the legend of El Dorado originated last year, did it? (See, it really was important that it’s only ONE YEAR LATER.)

He yells at her, asking if she knows what happened to Faraday. She says, “It smells so bad, I can’t think straight!” Oh, yes. The smell. That must be the problem. Somebody should scrub her down with tomatoes; She might start talking like a Nobel laureate.

Anyway, according to Sean, they not only shot Faraday, but they also “drowned him and burned him”. He continues on, saying they “skinned and deboned him”, which I hope is a little (very little) joke, because… what would be left of him? But here’s the good news: his armpits were insured by Mr. Ho Chang.

Sean says that after this, Faraday was “hung up for everybody to see!” He says if they did that to the Opium King, he doesn’t want to know what they’ll do the “Glow in the Dark Tie King”. And so, he immediately tries to weasel out of the whole thing.

But it seems he can’t make a clean break just yet. There’s one tiny bit of business left to take care of: Mr. Burns still has Sean’s crate of ties, back at the mission. Evidently, Sean’s stuff was sent straight to the mission, and it’s now being held against his good behavior. And so, unfortunately, this film must continue, as they head to the Helping Hand Mission to retrieve the ties. Yes, the plot of this movie has now become about ties.

Multi-Part Article: Shanghai Surprise (1986)

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