A story about loyalty, love, betrayal and revenge. The Wasted Times captures all the ins and outs of the organized crime business during the late 30’s with absolute care and elegance. Starring Ge You, Tadanobu Asano, Zhang Ziyi, Gillian Chung and Chun Du among others, this film resembles classic crime drama in a good way.
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Directed by the same director who made the surprisingly great “Lethal Hostage” some years ago with Sun Honglei, comes “The Wasted Times”, a film about the organized crime in Shanghai in the late 30s, just at the beginning of a possible open war against the Japanese. The film was hanging around at festivals such as the Asian Film Awards, where it was nominated for cinematography and costume design; at the China Film Director’s Guild Awards in several important categories and ended winning the Best Director award; and it also made its way through the Macau International Movie Festival, where Gou Ye, Zhang Ziyi and Xing Lv took the best actors awards.
The plot is somewhat confusing to explain after seeing the movie, because characters come and go constantly, the film flashes back and forth into different sections in time and context, and there is no central character so to speak. That said, it gives the impression that it is some kind of a disaster, but the reality is that it is not. As I said before, the film is about organized crime in Shanghai, on the eve of what could be a great confrontation between the Shanghai mafia and the Japanese army. There are 2 important characters in the plot, which could be said to be the main ones, Mr.Lu (Ye Gou) and Watabe (Tadanobu Asano). Mr Lu and Watabe are 2 among many others in charge of the organized crime business in Shanghai. Watabe’s peculiarity is that he is Japanese, but he has been in Shanghai for so long and has adapted so much to his customs and his people, that he is treated like a Chinese, with much respect. Soon, a group of Japanese will come to the city with intentions to make a deal with the Mr. Lu’ and Watabe’s band, and that’s where things start to go wrong.
Telling more about the film and more about other characters would be to telling too much information about the essence of the story and entering a little bit on spoiler terrain. Another important character is Zhang Ziyi’s one, who plays an actress inside the film, and also the wife of one of the members of this organized gang to which Mr. Lu and Watabe belong, and in some way, will play an important role in the story. Also, I think that going to see “The Wasted Times” knowing as little as possible about the plot is the best thing to do, because it is a very well-crafted puzzle that develops in a very elegant and beautiful way, where in the end everything makes sense.
As you can deduce in this kind of films, the pacing is slow and measured, but that does not equal boring. On the contrary, “The Wasted Times” is a truly captivating experience from the beginning. Although the slow pacing and sometimes the temporary changes are confusing, all the other aspects will play in your favor in the balance. Cinematography, performances, costume design and music are really remarkable. Jie du’s cinematography is simply wonderful, not only one of the best of the year, but one of the most gorgeous and well-cared for in recent years. Every single shot of the film is perfect, filled with framed with true care. A really excellent job when it comes to capturing all that atmosphere of the 30s and 40s.
Every aspect of the film you can think of is top notch, including the marvelous production design, the outstanding acting and the attractive soundtrack by Sida Guo and Shigeru Umebayashi. There are a couple of tracks (“Where are you father” and “Take me to Shanghai”) that capture the decadent mood and the soul of the film.
Resembling Zhang Yimou’s “Shanghai Triad” in a way, “The Wasted Times” captures some of the same elements that made that film great.
In the end, “The Wasted Times” is a surprisingly exquisite and atmospheric film that may leave you with a bittersweet reaction due to the fractured plot and characters, but you will always remember that overheard shot alongside the perfect music, the overall magnificent cinematography and the marvelous style that this film incorporates.