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A Place In Between – “Shanghal Bund”

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  • Pages: 10
  • Word count: 2275
  • Category: Love Man

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It has been almost 12 years since the famous TV series Shanghai Bund was aired in mainland China and almost every part of Asia, and yet the emotions, the controversies and the love of its characters still haunt the soul of almost all the viewers. The moment the theme song is played, we are immediately brought back to the enchanting world of that old Shanghai, where there are mob bosses, Japanese gangs, love story and the splendid view of the iconic Shanghai Bund that boasts the extravagance of the city itself. The movie raises a lot of moral questions surrounding the decisions made by the main characters Hua Man Keung – Ching Ching and Ting Lik, about what should a person do when being tear between love, friendship and patriotism. The movie also do a great job of portraying the city of Shanghai in the 1920s with all the dynamics and controversies. The ending, however, leaves us – the audience with a burning but yet familiar feeling of regret. This essay aims to address the plot of the movie, how it blends itself into the historical background of Shanghai in 1920s. The paper also wants to discuss some of the relationships portrayed in the movie and how these relationships represent the fundamental morality of Chinese/ Shanghai people.

Shanghai Bund – The Godfather of the East

In many ways we can see Shanghai Bund as an adaptation of The Godfather. Both are placed in the 1920s, in big cities (Shanghai and New York) with a lot of gangs fighting to claim the ownership of the underground world. However, if one is familiar with Hong Kong cinematic works, he or she can easily find this kind of genre and plot in other Hong Kong series and movies. The context of underground world has been well-developed by other directors, however in Shanghai Bund, the dark background of Shanghai that time only serves as a lever to highlight the relationship and the morality of the characters of the movie. But first, we should take a glimpse at the context of the movie, the underground war in Shanghai during the 1920s. Shanghai has long been a “Treaty Port” and under the domination of Britain. A lot of foreign merchants could inhabit and work in the zones controlled by foreign armies and navies. Although Chinese people have attempted to regain their independence throughout the years, demonstrated by the Taiping rebel in the 1950s and the 1960s, they were defeated and the foreign powers have strengthened their defense of their so called “concession zones”.

Foreign concession zones became hugely prosperous, and a very famous riverside district called “The Bund” had become a financial harbor district, with a lot of large new houses and estates. With the rapid expansion of prosperity, a lot of Chinese settlers have moved to Shanghai and formed settlements and businesses across the Bund (like Hua Man Keung). Foreign population surged rapidly, and by 1930, approximately there are 36,000 foreigners and 1.5 million Chinese lived in the foreign zones and ruled by foreign jurisdiction. This strange situation had made Shanghai a place for Chinese criminal gangs and protection rackets to flourish. A lot of criminal gangs coalesced into organizations of racketeers, and they made their living by the means of opium distribution and sales, prostitution and gambling enterprises including horse racing, greyhound tracks and lotteries. In the mid 1920s, the narcotics trade in opium, morphine, heroin was already worth 6 million dollars. Gambling brought in at least 1 million dollars per week. Although there are no official numbers of prostitutes in the city, it was estimated at 70,000 in 1920 and 100,000 by 1930, suggesting somewhat the scale of income available.

We also can see the tension between China and Japan during that period. In August 1937, the Sino Japanese War broke out. Trade and commerce were adversely affected. From 1937 to 1941, the International Settlement was called a “lonely island” – a neutral zone surrounded by Japanese occupied territory. However, the pressure that Japan put on Shanghai had happened for a long time, like the Japanese assault on Shanghai in 1932. In the summer of 1937, a curious new alliance was forged between all the various secret service, counter-intelligence, police, and criminal underground organizations. A lot of underground gangs had made contacts with the Japanese agents and their relationships with the Japanese are considered useful for the Nationalist alliance.

Shanghai Bund has successfully used the history context of Shanghai in the 1920s to demonstrate the complex difficulties that a mainland Chinese settler like Hua Man Keung faced when first arrived to the glorious city of Shanghai. We get a glimpse of how the underground world of Shanghai works by looking at the job of Fung King Yiu, Hua Man Keung’s boss. We see a lot of illegal trading, kidnapping, prostitution in the movie, and also the dynamic relationship between the gangs. We also see a lot of new foreign elements in Shanghai, such as the modern, Christian wedding between Ting Lik and Ching Ching; the Japanese troops; …

Shanghai Bund is originally a remake of an older version “The Bund”, however, “The Bund” focuses more on the underground world of Shanghai, while the new version uses the dark background to highlight the righteous morality of Hua Man Keung. Despite being in a vicious environment, Hua Man Keung remains as a patriotic man, who is willing to sacrifice his life for the well-being of the people of Shanghai. In the old version, Hua Man Keung is killed after he avenges the mob boss and became a powerful boss in Shanghai, but in the remake version, he is killed by his best friend Ting Lik right after Fung King Yiu’s death, which makes his sacrifice even more heroic and haunting.

Shanghai Bund – A tragic love story

Along with the dark, groomy settings of the underground world, we also witness one of the most tragic love story in Chinese cinematic history. The love that Hua Man Keung and Ching Ching have for each other is pure and innocent, as opposed to the work of Ching Ching’s father. They first meet when Hua Man Keung saves her from the hand of the kidnappers, and they fell in love quickly after that. Hua Man Keung then collaborates with Ching Ching’s father – Fung King Yiu to avenge his old friends, and Fung King Yiu did his best to support Man Keung’s career, making him one of the powerful men in Shanghai. We can view Ching Ching as the absolute opposition to her father – Fung King Yiu. She is young, she is nice and innocent, like a blank paper.

She does not know a lot about the work of her father and her fiancé, which sometimes gets her into troubles. Her love for Hua Man Keung is also incredible. She has feelings for him, and she express her love like any other girl in her ages. She is possessive but also supportive. She wants her fiancé to get along with her father, and she even goes against the will of her dad to find Hua Man Keung. However, she is also in a difficult situation after Man Keung betrays Fung King Yiu. She still loves him, but she also wants to be a good daughter and stands by her father. In the end, she chooses to marry Ting Lik and stands with her father, decides to put the on top (the gratitude towards your parents). The relationship and the behaviors of a child to his or her parents is considered one of the five most important relationship in China (GuanXi). This is often seen as reasonable in Chinese culture, where children should always to grateful to their parents and put them above. Ching Ching’s actions might be considered unreasonable in some other cultures and love stories, but in the movie, her choices are ratified.

Not only Ching Ching, but Hua Man Keung is also put in a very complicated situation. He does love Ching Ching, and there are times when he has second thought about his decisions. He wants to keep his engagement with his lover, but at the same times, he also wants to be a good citizen. The scene when he decides to burn the picture of him and Ching Ching while sitting in the car has to be one of the most iconic moments of the movie, and a lot of later movies and TV series have use this particular method of conveying the suffering of a character in times of separation. However, Hua Man Keung is also in between the love story of him and Ching Ching and the friendship between him and Ting Lik. Obviously, he and Ting Lik are friends for years and they have a long history working and living together. The scene when Hua Man Keung shoots Fung King Yiu and be shot by his best friend is also very memorable and has been recreated in a lot of game shows, movies, New Year shows across Asian countries.

The complex relationship featured by the scene and the painful ending have made that particular moment so famous and haunting. The movie comprises of multiple great lines that showcase the love of Ching Ching and Hua Man Keung. They use beautiful language, a lot of comparison such as: “Even if heaven turn this ocean into a field, our promise will still remain. Even if there is no tomorrow, we still keep on loving each other without regrets” (Hua Man Keung – Shanghai Bund). They do not hesitate to show their love and their future wishes towards each other through words, like in this line: “I wish I can hold your hand like this until we are dead. When we grow old, have a lot of children and grandchildren, I still want to hold your hand.” Their love story is described as the “Romeo and Juliet” of the East, as both feature tragic love stories.

Other cinematic elements

The theme of the movie is very well backed up by the music. The theme song, Seung Hoi Tan, is the original theme song of the late version “The Bund”. The song, with the powerful rhymth that mimics the tides of Shanghai Bund and the complex chaos in the society of Shanghai, has gained a lot of love from people across the world, and the song has been translated into various versions like Vietnamese version, Korean version, … The lyrics of the song is also very close to the theme of the movie: “Rushing waves, flowing waves Thousand miles of the torrential river flows ceaselessly forever Washed away the worldly affairs Torrential mixing of the tidal currentsis it happiness? is it sorrow?” The image of the waves, the magnificent view of Shanghai Bund featured in the lyrics remind the viewer of the heroic quest that Hua Man Keung takes, the complex relationship that he goes through and the sad ending to the young couple. However, at the same time, the lyrics also mentions the strength of the heart, that whichever happens, the heart will keep on overcoming the waves, the sorrows and the space in between lovers:

“Unable to differentiate between them Still wishing to overcome these waves My heart has enough of those rises and falls Still wishing to overcome these wavesMy heart has enough of those rises and falls” The construction of the characters is also very well-done. Hua Man Keung, after becoming a friend of Fung King Yiu, always wears a black, long vest with a black hat that hides half of his face. He always shows off some kind of sharp, decisive manners that attracts a lot of girls around him, and even his boss. Ching Ching is a young, naïve girl that loves to go to the church, help other people and want to be with her lover. She braids her hair like a typical Chinese teenager that time do, always wear adorable clothes and accessories and talk in a stubborn yet innocent way.

There are a lot of iconic scenes in “Shanghai Bund”. We have already known of the ending scene, which is tragic, haunting yet memorable. The scene when Hua Mang Keung takes Ching Ching hand and they run down the road of Shanghai, chased by a bunch of racketeers is also another great scene that shows the bravery of the young couple, the determination of Hua Man Keung and his love for Ching Ching. The slow motion adopted by the director help to highlight that moment, along with multiple changes of camera angles, fast paced music. There are also a lot of fighting scene and shooting scene in the movie, although this is not a martial art movies or series. All the fighting scenes and shooting scenes are well-made and make the audience satisfy, and they portray very well the image of a cool, handsome young Hua Man Keung who is not afraid of anything.


The story of a young couple being torn between love, friendship and family in a chaotic period in Shanghai history will never be forgotten in Chinese cinematic history. “Shanghai Bund” has done an amazing job of incorporating the historical background of Shanghai in to a tragic love story, at the same time reveal the complexity of Shanghai society in the 1920s. The social relationship, cultural elements and historical backgrounds have been manipulated very well to highlight the beauty of an unfulfilling love and the heroism of Hua Man Keung.


  1. Jonathan D. Spence. “The Underground War for Shanghai.” The New York Review of Books April 20th, 1995
  2. Sean Upton – McLaughLin. “What is Guanxi – Relationships in China.” China Culture Corner April 21st, 2013
  3. “Shanghai in the 1930s.” World History May 25th, 2017
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