Shanghai Surprise (1986) (part 7 of 11)
Cut to later on at the Hotel Room of Ill Repute. Madonna starts hitting the caramel-colored water pretty hard. Sean awakes and warns her against this, saying she’ll “tear a hole in [her] stomach”. Madonna somehow keeps a straight face when replying, “Good. Maybe it’ll balance the hole in my head!” It would take a pretty big hole to fulfill that need. Perhaps even a hole of the black variety.
Madonna is now racked with guilt, drunkenly moaning about how she “blackmailed [him] shamelessly”. So that’s how she got him to make this movie! She then sits down in the window sill and says, “I release you from your obligation!”
After more dumb banter, she drunkenly tumbles backwards out of the window. Sadly, she hasn’t plummeted to a messy death several stories below. Instead, she’s landed on a ledge just a few inches below the window, which is populated by a flock of ducks. Sean snickers at her, and she yells, “Not funny!” For once, she speaks the truth.
Then comes more dull repartee, where we learn Madonna is from “Brookline, Massachusetts”, which, for some reason, she brays in an obnoxious Jersey accent. She then has the most unconvincing pouting/fake crying spell I’ve seen in a long time. During this, she works in a completely emotionless reference to the Great Depression, which supposedly motivated her relocation to China. And at one point, she actually refers to the ducks as “chickens”. I think we found Jessica Simpson’s role model, right here.
Sucked in by this display, Sean says he’ll honor his obligations. And good lord, I can’t tell you which one of them is more lifeless and monotone right now. And they’re surrounded by a flock of quacking ducks, too. If you can’t summon up any energy while surrounded by crazy water fowl, there’s no hope for you. (Are you listening, Lea Thompson?) Sean Penn, I’m especially disappointed in. It’s like he’s deliberately trying to give a bad performance, purely to avoid embarrassing his lady love.
Anyway, Madonna is really upset at the prospect of him seeing China Doll again. But it turns out he doesn’t need to go back to see her again. He reveals he actually did ask about Walter Faraday when he was with China that night. Sike! Now, as you’ll recall, Madonna had sex with him solely to put him under obligation to help her, and that specifically meant getting more info from China Doll. But Sean already had the info, and yet he waited until after he had sex with Madonna to reveal this. Classy.
Madonna’s reaction to all this is on the same level as when you give a little kid the action figure he’s been crying about for the last six hours. Her face is so frozen into a pout that there’s no chance of it thawing into any other expression for at least a few minutes. Sadly, this might be one of the more authentic moments of her performance.
Sean says that since it was a “delicate subject”, he had to wait for the “right moment” to ask China Doll about Faraday. We immediately cut to a flashback of the two of them in the throes of passion. Ha ha. Wait, that’s supposed to be a joke, right? Anyway, it turns out China Doll is actually the first to bring up Faraday’s Flowers, and somehow she knows that’s the true purpose of Sean’s visit.
And so, the one and only piece of exposition dropped in this flashback is that when Wu Ch’en She stole the opium, China Doll lined up a buyer. And the buyer’s name? No kidding, it’s “Joe Go”. That, of course, is the Oriental-ized version of the GI Joe slogan. When they show GI Joe in China, that’s what all the characters yell. That, and “Half the battle, knowing is!” Either that, or this character was named after a male version of the Betsy Wetsy doll.
Back in the present, Madonna is asking where they can find this Joe Go, and in one of the few mildly amusing bits in this movie, Sean is just staring out into space with a shit-eating grin on his face, reminiscing back to last night. Well, not shit eating, actually. At least I hope not.
Anyway, now that Sean has revealed the plot point that actually happened several scenes ago, they head on over to a race track. Chinese jockeys ride horses, and a “Shanghai Gold Cup” banner hangs over a club house, and more of George’s ragtime music plays.
Sean and Madonna pull up in a taxi and head inside, and another car pulls up right behind them. A certain occupant with a certain pair of porcelain hands smokes a cigarette and spies on them. It seems the characters in this movie simply have nothing better to do than follow the two leads around like demented puppies.
Inside the clubhouse, a beefy guy in a suit—a dead ringer for Odd Job, actually—tells them Joe Go is waiting for them. Cut to Joe himself, a guy in a suit tossing around a baseball with another guy. Joe Go is played by Clyde Kusatsu, one of those reliable ethnic character actors, who does about 800 bit roles per year. You’ve almost certainly seen him on something, even if you don’t know exactly what. He was even an admiral on a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And with the track record of admirals in the Star Trek universe, we can safely assume he wanted Picard to do something immoral and/or violate the Prime Directive.
Joe asks, “Joe Go a regular Dizzy Dean?” Dizzy being a famous pitcher for the Cardinals, at roughly the time this is supposedly taking place. And not, as I originally assumed, Jimmy’s cousin with the inner ear disorder.
Well, it takes no time at all for Joe Go and Sean to bond over their mutual love of baseball. Then Joe tells him, “China Doll say you have a pretty face, and I should tell you all I know about Faraday’s Flowers!” (So Sean Penn is the one with the “pretty face” in this movie. Interesting.) Yes, it is just as simple as that, because he now freely dumps a big load of exposition all over Sean and Madonna. I gotta say, the more I learn about this MacGuffin, the more it loses interest for me. And also, I don’t particularly care for Joe’s insistence on referring to himself in the third person, so I’ll just cut to the chase.
Joe explains that he did indeed make a deal to buy the opium from Wu Ch’en She, but all he got was a load of bricks. And also a lousy T shirt, I imagine. He thinks Faraday made a last-minute switch before Wu even stole the opium in the first place. Just then, in some random set somewhere, a random pyrotechnic explosion goes off. There’s some smoke, but no fire, and it’s about on par with a lame magic trick, or possibly Endora is about to appear, in a bad mood.
The set turns out to be not far from where Sean and Madonna are standing. Joe chuckles that this is a “very hot item” which he calls the “Shanghai Surprise!” Wow. So this movie just barely edges into the small list of films where characters say the title. Other than the really obvious ones like Rocky or Superman. Or Star Trek: First Contact, unfortunately. But to me, “Shanghai Surprise” sounds like the least desirable Soup of the Day at a Chinese restaurant.
Now, if you’re wondering why random people were setting off their own Shanghai Surprise just now, you will be left hanging. I’ll just have to assume it’s this movie’s MI5 scene, and in just a few short moments, someone will be along to demonstrate an exploding bowler hat.
Joe pulls out his own Shanghai Surprise, and guess what? It’s a canvas belt, of the exact same type that Walter Faraday was wearing in the prologue. The very same one that exploded and turned Mei Gan’s hands into bloody stumps. Getting your hands blown off is quite a Shanghai Surprise, I’ll admit. And definitely something you want to be setting off inside a crowded clubhouse. Although, that explosion didn’t look even remotely capable of blowing off any limbs. And I’m still mystified as to why there’s a market for explosives you wear in close proximity to the kind of body parts you might want to insure with Mr. Ho Chong, if you catch my meaning.
Joe says he can take them to see Wu Ch’en She, but only if they help him out, because he’s in debt for “12,000 big ones”. Sean says he’s got something more valuable in mind than money. He better not mean his softcore neckties. Well, with the barest of prompting, Joe’s crony tosses the baseball to Sean, and Sean weakly pitches it back.
This leads into a truly embarrassing effects shot where the camera tracks along with a superimposed baseball, with thick matte lines around it, as it careens slowly through the air. And as if that weren’t stupid enough, the baseball slows down just as it passes Joe Go, then gets a spin, and picks up speed and takes off. It actually looks like this ball was being controlled by the Great Gazoo.
Joe claims to know the “fastball, curveball, change-up, even the elusive screwball!” (Hey, he’s not so elusive. He’s right in front of you, in fact.) But he demands to know “what the hell was this wondrous pitch?” Sean fesses up that it’s a little thing known as a “knuckleball”. And so, the trade is made—Joe will take them to Wu Ch’en She if Sean teaches him how to throw a knuckleball. This whole plot is like, textbook MacGuffin 101. Go here, get a little closer to the prize. Trade this, get a little closer. It doesn’t get any more MacGuffin-y than this.