Capsule Review: As Time Goes By…in Shanghai

by John Davidson for FILMbutton

Bottom Line: An age defying romp through some great musical standards, as seen through the eyes of those who have really seen it all.

Set against the skyline of a very opulent, modern and polluted Shanghai, a group of octogenarians and lifelong friends make beautiful music together, all the while reminiscing about the bad old days of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Despite their difficult lives, including living through World War Two and the Communist Revolution, this group of musical survivors have carved out a populist reputation at home and an overseas following of Standard lovers, or as the band calls them ‘foreign folk songs’.

The band members themselves are remarkably spry, and clearly enjoy joking around in one another’s presence. Still, they are no fools, and put their much younger manger in his place as soon as he steps one foot out of line. They know their music, who they are, and exactly what kind of show they want to present.

The film focuses on the professional lives of the band members, and only briefly touches on the subjects of family or politics. When it does, they all seem to agree that where China has evolved to is a much better place than where it was before, even if the evolution was painful in many different ways.

One element of the film that was interesting is the insistence that the American Navy presence in Shanghai after World War Two was very important in the cultural development of the city, and that the influence survived even after Communism took over in 1953. Certainly from the look of the streets as we are taken across town, the influence of the west seems to be everywhere, signalling in pictures if not words (perhaps on purpose) how little the people pay any attention to communist doctrine.

Overall, the film is an enjoyable peek into the lives of some affectionate granddads as they prepare for and travel to a concert in Rotterdam, and watch as they marvel at both the size of the concert hall and the windmills, as well as at the more liberal aspects of Dutch life.

Hot Docs Screening Times:

Wed, May 1 – 4:15 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Thu, May 2 – 9:30 PM
The Royal Cinema

John Davidson is a huge music & film fan who has produced an independent film and now runs sonaBlast! Records Canada.

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