Customer Reviews: Shanghai Surprise (Special Edition)
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on July 13, 2004
I am a huge Madonna fan. I love her music. I love her movies (not because I think she can act but because they're always so bad they're good). But this movie is an exception to all the others. It's just bad. Words can't describe. I think what made it so painful was the fact that it went on forever. Just when you think it's over something else happens. Once that's over with something ELSE happens. After that, something ELSE happens. And then something else. And then something else. And all that really happens is Madonna and Sean Penn run around like idiots. I'm sure this movie must be really embarassing for them. Madonna's performance is so wooden and if Sean weren't cute he wouldn't be any fun to watch either.
I wish I could give this movie 0 stars.
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on March 17, 2004
The story is rubbish, the acting is bad, however I did enjoy it in some perverse way! (One of those, its so bad its good films perhaps?)
Know-one comes out of this film unscathed. Penn's character is completely annoying; his histrionics really grated on my nerves and Madonna's acting has never been worse (the crying scene has got to be seen to be believed).
The scenery is beautiful though, and possibly the only other noteable thing this film has going for it, is that Madonna is absolutely stunning in it.
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on August 31, 2012
Reading most of the reviewers who have a marginal opinion of "Shanghai Surprise" they give it damning faint praise by saying it's not as bad as its reputation suggests. Man up and admit it's a pretty good movie. The critics in its day made hay of the film saving their worst venom for Madonna. She's not going to win any Oscars for her turn as a missionary in Thirties China but she gives a very sweet account of herself in only her second feature role. Sean Penn as the American opportunist/glow-in-the-dark tie salesman is quite charismatic and dashing. The story is relatively riveting and the film contains stunning exotic period detail. Lastly, producer George Harrison, who also appears in a nightclub scene, contributes some terrific songs to the soundtrack. I give this film my unequivocal recommedation with very few reservations.
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on January 21, 2005
i saw this movie in the theater when i was a kid (the place was completely empty). i haven't seen it in ages since but i just got the dvd and i didn't remember it being so good. what an enjoyable film.

madonna and sean are both sexy and adorable. the plot is full of fun twists and the ending is so uplifting. i don't think it's anything oscar-worthy but it does what a good movie should do: it entertains.

along with desperately seeking susan and who's that girl, this is one of madonna's most natural performances. she doesn't overpower the movie the way she has in all her post-league of their own work (that power only worked to her advantage in evita).

also, she's not as mannered and affected here as she is in later films. the only stiff part is in the beginning (where one newspaper reviewer said she seemed to be reading off cue cards) where gloria is treating glendon with distaste. i guess it's hard for madonna to play "stiff" without seeming like she's acting.

but the rest of her performance is very natural. her smile at the end when sean takes her arm and makes her wave to faraday is extraordinary, on par with the acting of a good romantic comedy actress like sandra bullock or julia roberts.

i can see why sean and madonna wanted to do this. it had the potential to be well-received (though period screwball comedies/love stories were an outdated genre after 1975) but i think the media can make or break you. the media was really fed up with the poison penns and that's why they trashed this movie.
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on November 21, 2014
This is a independent film, which makes you laugh, till you cry, the ending was really good, when Madonna, is on the ship leaving, as Sean Penn, is looking at her,and the others leaving, as they are looking for opium, the drug, to help ease the pain of the people in China, as Madonna is suppose to be a missionary, who does not like Sean's attitude towards many things, so as a result, the movie is pretty good.
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on February 27, 2014
I got this as George Harrison was the $$ behind the movie and had to make a special trip to Asia to clam down the battling Penn's.

i am a big fan of the movies that George Harrison/Handmade Films produced.

Production values are good, Sean and Madonna turn in respectable performances. Harrison makes a cameo as a night club singer and provided the music.

Possibly an under rated movie with a great sound track.
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on November 27, 2011
Back in the 80s I was a kid. I didn't have movie to spend on all the movies I just wanted to see. I had to save it and spend it on movies I thought would be worth my money. Well I skipped this one as the reviews back then were just horrible. They beat up Madonna and Sean Penn pretty badly back then as I recall. And I would recall very well as I was a HUGE Madonna fan back then. But after all of these years I finally watched it. I don't get what was so wrong. I can remember three of them: 1) The way Madonna read the line "He's gaining" 2) The fake way Madonna was "crying" after she fell out of the window and 3) the way the guy chasing them ran through all the merchants and people on the street for "action" when he could have ran down the empty street itself. The ending had a good twist but was a left one thing loose for me . . . where were the flowers all the time? And what were those jewels? That didn't seem to be explained well. Other than this I liked the movie. It was a Adventure's in Babsitting, Ferris Beuller's Day off, type of movie . . . . Nothing special. Nothing horrible. I think people were hell bent on bringing Madonna under control back then . . . they couldn't let her get too big . . . not at least with acting as she had already conquered the music world. . . and for good reason as we found out in the 90s (when I stopped being a fan). It probably deserves two stars. But I am going to give it 3 as I feel misled by all the bad press around it. Also the extra features were just OK. There should have been more . . . deeper . . . more secrets revealed after all of this about a movie that bombed so badly and with such big names attached to it. Were was Madonna, Sean, and George's remarks? And Melissa Rivers??? Shows they just rushed to put something together to make it a "Special Edition". Why not forgo the VH1 personalities and get the actors. They only had the one. And he was the only one who provided the behind the scenes stuff.
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on January 31, 2013
Everyone knows "Shanghai Surprise" (1986), starring Sean Penn and Madonna when they were still very young, is regarded as one of the worst films ever made. Don't believe it. I'm not saying it's a good film, but it's certainly not one of the worst ever made.

People complain about the film and the acting as if it was supposed to be a serious drama when, in fact, it's a goofy romantic-comedy adventure a la "High Road to China" or "Romancing the Stone (Special Edition)", but with way more talk and less action. I'd also compare it to "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Special Edition)" but the Indiana Jones films are in a whole different league.

Like I said, people complain about, say, Madonna's acting, but she strikes the right note for a semi-goofy romantic-comedy/adventure. It's low camp all the way. What other approach can you expect in this type of movie?

The highlights are seeing Madonna and Sean when they were so young (not that I'm a fan of either), as well as George Harrison's original songs, the Hong Kong locations, a good Bond-parody villain and the amusing shenanigans throughout.

If "Shanghai Surprise" had added two or three great action sequences the movie would have been better received. As it is, there are NO great action scenes. There are quite a few scenes of quasi-violence and intrigue, but no memorable action sequences like Indiana Jones. But, then again, maybe "Shanghai Surprise" can be respected for daring to be different by not catering to those with ADHD.

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on April 17, 2007
It's hard to believe that 21 years have passed since this Madonna-Sean Penn disaster was first released. And time has not worked any wonders on this clumsily plotted, awkwardly incompetent movie. What you get with this SPECIAL EDITION release is a beautifully remastered picture with 5.1 sound, a gaggle of special features which are quite funny (one of which I'm actually on--listen for me on the fans commentary, I'm the bitchy New Yorker in the room!). It's a movie only a dedicated Madonna fan could love, and if you are one, then you simply must upgrade!
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VINE VOICEon February 13, 2015
The big-budget bomb that helped bring down George Harrison's HandMade Films. A painfully miscast Sean Penn is stuck with his then-wife (and non-actor) Madonna in a romantic-comedy fiasco. Not surprisingly, the ex-Beatle makes a brief cameo and contributes a few songs that he re-recorded with better results on his 1987 "Cloud Nine" album.
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