Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Three Nights in "Shanghai"

Back in 2008, when I was living in Bangkok, I had the opportunity to be an extra in the movie Shanghai and rub shoulders (literally in some cases) with the stars John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yung-Fat and Ken Watanabe.

The movie is set in late 1941, in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Shanghai and the attack on Pearl Harbour. Although it isn't scheduled for US release until October this year (presumably to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the events themselves) it was released last year in Asia, and is available online for streaming.

Is it just me or do some of the outfits look five years too early for 1941? There was actually a huge wardrobe marquee of original vintage clothing. Sadly most of the best pieces in medium size had already been distributed by the time I joined the cast; I was put in a lemon silk blouse and brown tweed skirt. I did get to wear some fabulous vintage satin peeptoe shoes (I thought they were less fabulous after I'd been on my feet for 16 hours).

Funny story: While I was rummaging through the accessories (I wanted a hat, but they didn't give me one) I came across two 1930s beaded evening purses that looked weirdly familiar. I had actually sold them on ebay two years earlier! How cool is that? I know I sold items to props companies, but how amazing that these two little purses should turn up on a film set in Bangkok, where I also happened to be working! I picked one to carry, even though it didn't exactly match my ensemble - I just couldn't resist.

I must confess that one of the most fun parts of watching the film was seeing the sets that I remember wandering around. It was so exciting being transported to downtown Shanghai in 1941, peering in the windows of the silk emporium and the dress boutique, surrounded by the bustle of the street - it really was like being a time traveller (that is until you went round the corner and found the refreshments van) and I loved it.

I was there for the final three days of filming, and took part in four scenes (one didn't make it into the movie, and in the one daylight street scene I guess I was out of shot). My best friend Sophia was an extra there for some weeks though, and shows up a few times. That's her (below) in the centre of the shot, playing a hooker who approaches John Cusack's character outside the casino.

My scenes are towards the end of the film. That's me in the crowd trying to get through the gate to the port, after the Japanese invade the city. We had to push and shove past John Cusack and Gong Li so they got separated in the crowd.

Here I am again, queuing up at passport control. We were supposed to look drawn and weary - not too much of a stretch, since it was about 6am by that point (they'd hung blackout curtains over the windows to block out the sunlight) and we'd been on set since three the previous afternoon.

So, there you have my Hollywood debut. Movie stardom awaits...


  1. How wonderful, I am jealous have wanted to see this film for ages it seems. Yeah some of the clothes do seem a bit 'dated' for 1941, did it take longer for western fashions to get there perhaps?

  2. Wow what a cool experience! And yes I quite like that the fashions are 'staggered' as in the colnies that happens. Certainly did here (In New Zealand!)

  3. Wow, this is fascinating. The film is on my 'to-watch list' as I'm a HUGE fan of John Cusack...I'll keep an eye out for you too ;o)

    What an experience this must have been and I love your funny story too!

  4. AWESOME! SUch a fantastic experience!!!! I can't wait to watch it!

  5. How awesome! I've always wanted to be in a movie! :)

  6. What a fantastic experience! And the story about the bags is great, I love strange coincidences!

  7. I can't believe that about the bags! How funny! I hadn't heard of the film, but now I'll have to go see it.

  8. That is so cool! I actually recently got this DVD and it is on my "to watch" list! lol now I'll have to look out for you!

  9. Wow, what an interesting adventure and that is an amazing coincidence about the bags!

  10. This film seem just up my street I will certainly have add it to my to watch list.
    What an adventure for you and although tiring I am sure you would jump at the change again.
    I will keep an eye out for you when I watch the film and thanks for sharing.

  11. Well, if that isn't cool, Charlotte! How very exciting. I now know 2 people who are famous by being extras. A friend of mine was in a few scenes of the TV series, "Columbo", back in the late 1970's. It's so neat, too, to see her in the scenes.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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