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Manchuria 1931: On the same day as she is left by her Japanese lover
Itami (Toru Nakamura), her brother is killed by a Japanese terrorist and
Japan is invading Manchuria - which all is enough for Cynthia (Zhang Ziyi)
to join the anti-Japanese underground ...
Shanghai 1937: Itami, suspected of being a Japanese spy, is arriving in
the city to put up shop. Cynthia's organisation, led by Xie Ming (Feng
Yuangzheng) awaits him at the train station to assassinate him - but due
to a case of mistaken identities they instead try to kill Szeto (Liu Ye),
an innocent Japanese who just wants to visit his girlfriend (Li Bingbing)
who is shot dead in the chaos that ensues.
Szeto now is not only heartbroken but suddenly also of interest to both
the Japanese secret service, led by Itami of course, and the underground,
and both want to abuse him to get a lead to the other side, which brings
him closer and closer to breaking point - and eventually he decides he has
to assassinate Itami ...
Xie Ming in the meantime decides that it would be a good idea for
Cynthia to get back together with Itami again to properly spy on him -
which means great emotional pain for her, as she soon finds herself drawn
between love and hatred - especially when he offers her to take her back
to Japan with him to evade the Japanese army which will invade every day
Ultimately, Xie Ming's gang decides to zero in on Yamamoto (Ei Kin),
Itami's superior, while Cynthia is supposed to distract Itami at a gala
dinner - but in the process of killing Yamamoto, Xie Ming and his whole
organisation are wiped out as well. When Itami tells this to Cynthia -
whom he has long grown wise to but still wants to take with him to Japan -
she stabs him ... just before Szeto, more mad than ever, enters the scene
and shoots Itami, then he shoots Cynthia too who has abused him just as
badly as Itami ...
flashback to the day of the incident at the train station: Xie Ming and
Cynthia make love (it has not previously been revealed that they were a
couple), then get on their way to the trainstation ...
The ending shows archive footage of the Japanese invasion of Shanghai
A historical melodrama, not told in a pretentious and preposterous,
glossy and over-budgeted way but rather as a small, private story (or
several private stories intertwined), filmed primarily with shaky
handcameras - which adds a new dimension to the generally underplayed
action scenes -, with vintage pop music used to counterpoint the dramatic
dieing scenes, saving them from becoming cheesy and clichéd. And then
there's of course Zhang Ziyi who once again carries the movie seemingly
without the slightest of effort, and she's given able support by most of
the cast, especially Toru Nakamura.