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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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: [[spoiler: Mrs Hunt's goons
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • MacGuffin: Hartman's black book contains the information the police need to expose the smuggling ring.
  • 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.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Lan Ying's father is murdered ten minutes in.
  • 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.
  • You Killed My Father: Lan Ying is motivated to uncover her father's murderer.
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