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Film / Daughter of Shanghai

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Daughter of Shanghai (also billed as Daughter of the Orient) is a 1937 Hollywood film. Anna May Wong plays Lan Ying Kwan, a young heiress whose father is suddenly murdered just as he is about to help expose an alien smuggling ring. Lan Ying takes it upon herself to investigate the smugglers, going undercover as a dancer in the club they're using as a front. Also investigating the case is government agent Kim Lee (Philip Ahn), who also goes undercover.

Yes this was made in the 1930s.

Daughter of Shanghai is unique in that it's an old school Hollywood film that's Asian-focused, decidedly un-racist about it and casts actual Asian-American actors in the lead roles - as opposed to white actors in Yellowface. Indeed it was one of the few films where Anna May Wong was top billed and playing a non-stereotypical Chinese character. Despite its status as a B-movie, it's for this reason that the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

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Tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Though she isn't a trained Action Girl, Lan Ying escapes her captors several times and proves quite competent in a situation.
  • Actor Allusion: Lan Ying's dance at Hartman's club is a recreation of one Anna May Wong did in the film Piccadilly.
  • Affably Evil: Hartman doesn't seem to be particularly nasty about what he does. He's implied to be a Bad Boss but this is never shown.
  • All There in the Manual: Mrs Hunt is only ever called that on screen, but the credits confirm her first name is Mary.
  • Alpha Bitch: Olga from the club appears to be this, as she antagonises Lan Ying when she arrives.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Lan Ying of course, as she pretends to be a dancer to get accepted into Hatman's club.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Invoked by Kim when he pretends he knows Russian.
  • Bad-Guy Bar: Where Lan Ying goes undercover.
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  • Battle Butler: Mrs Hunt has one.
  • Beneath Notice: Both Lan Ying and Kim Lee are able to avoid suspicion when snooping around. The former by pretending to be a naive exotic dancer, the latter by posing as a sailor.
  • Big Fancy House: Mrs Hunt owns a mansion near Chinatown, as well as a nice beach house that features in the climax.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mrs Hunt is the mastermind of the smuggling ring, and has been pretending to be a good friend to Lan Ying and her father for a whole decade.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Mrs Hunt's goons try to dispose of Lan Ying and Kim by dropping them out of the airplane with the same tactic they used in the opening - as opposed to just shooting them. This allows Lan Ying to escape them a second time.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kelly the chauffeur being a former boxer pays off when he helps Lan Ying and Kim in the climax.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Lan Ying twice in the film:
    • Her father is shot in the opening. She pretends to have been killed as well, and sneaks out of the car at the right time to make her captors think she's still in it when it goes into the river.
    • When she and Kim are in the plane in the climax, she's able to untie her bonds.
  • Disguised in Drag: Lan Ying disguises herself as a man and stows away on the ship carrying all the immigrants.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene establishes what the smugglers really do; carry a plane full of illegal immigrants hoping to get to America. When they're about to be busted, they drop the immigrants into the sea to kill them rather than be caught.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: The dancer Rita seems to have enjoyed Lan Ying's performance, and asks if she can be a partner.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: The dancers at the club wear long dresses and pretty modest costumes on stage. Lan Ying's is a little skimpier.
  • Fanservice: Lan Ying does get a scene where she performs a sexy dance.
  • Fighting Irish: Kelly, Mrs Hunt's chauffeur, punches something in nearly every scene.
  • Foreshadowing: It's established that Lang Yin and Mrs Hunt are the only people who know about the information the former's father had been gathering. This foreshadows that Mrs Hunt organised the murder.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: Mrs Hunt's goons seem to always fail to kill Lan Ying, and get chewed out for it by the old woman.
  • Heroic Seductress: Downplayed. Lan Ying exploits Hartman's lechery to get hired (and therefore find evidence). Later when she's caught snooping in his office, she covers up quite easily by pretending he invited her there for a drink.
  • Identical-Looking Asians: Exploited by Lan Ying, when she pretends to be the brother of another immigrant.
  • Intimate Open Shirt: Hartman's shirt being constantly like this is justified due to the hot climate, but also helps establish him as a Dirty Old Man.
  • Irony: Kelly - the one of Mrs Hunt's entourage who's shown as openly violent - is the only one not in on her plan.
  • Karmic Death: Hartman is shot by a man he stole money from.
  • Last Minute Hook Up: Lan Ying and Kim Lee of course as they ride in the car from Mrs Hunt's house.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Lan Ying is discovered cross dressing when her long hair is visible from under the hat she was wearing.
  • MacGuffin: Hartman's black book contains the information the police need to expose the smuggling ring.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Locking Kim Lee in the telephone room (although that was a convenient distraction since he wanted to use the phone) allows him to get free and phone the police.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Kim Lee - a high up police detective - pretends to be a dim-witted sailor on Captain Gulner's ship.
    • Lan Ying herself pretends to be a naive dancer.
  • Police are Useless: Averted when the cops pull a Big Damn Heroes in the climax. Lan Ying initially feels this is the case, as she goes undercover because she believes the police won't get anywhere. Indeed one untrained girl gets there quicker than a detective with only a name and a vague location.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The villains are white people who exploit poor immigrants trying to get to America, and have problem killing them if that makes things more convenient for themselves.
  • Rich Bitch: Mrs Hunt is a wealthy head of a smuggling ring. Who is also a Bad Boss.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Lan Ying's father is murdered ten minutes in.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The smugglers' mysterious boss is actually Mrs Hunt.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: It's a wonder Mrs Hunt managed to run the smuggling ring for so long, considering how easily her goons get outwitted by Lan Ying - an untrained young woman.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Lan Ying briefly disguises herself as a man to get off the island with the other immigrants.
  • Teasing from Behind the Language Barrier: Captain Gulner doesn't know Russian, so Kim trolls him by saying "Alpha Beta Gamma" to demonstrate her can speak Russian.
  • Terrible Trio: Mrs Hunt's goons come in a group of three.
  • Title Drop: Daughter of Shanghai turns out to be Lan Ying's Red Baron on stage.
  • Token Good Teammate: Kelly, Mrs Hunt's chauffeur, is the only member of her staff not in on the smuggling.
  • Undercover Model: Lan Ying pretends to be an exotic dancer to get hired at Hartman's club so she can investigate.
  • You Killed My Father: Lan Ying is motivated to uncover her father's murderer.
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