Plot Points – Shanghai Triad (1995)

The plot points are linear links that form the chain of the traditional Aristotelian dramatic structure in three acts. This classic structure worked well in Hollywood for almost a century. Although young filmmakers are pushing the limits of this structure, the plot points continue to dominate the day like the “tent poles” that hold up the circus of our dreams. Here are the plot points of Shanghai Triad (1995), as I see them.

Shanghai Triad (1995)

Starring: Gong Li, Li Baotian, Li Xuejian, Sun Chun, Wang Xiao Xiao

Directed by: Zhang Yimou

Writers: Bi Feiyu (screenplay), Li Xiao (novel)

…sound of water, rough waves breaking against the boats…

ESTABLISHMENT SHOT: Country boy Shuisheng (Wang Xiaoxiao), newly arrived in Shanghai, stands in the middle of the urban crowd, clueless to what is going on around him. A picture of confusion, alienation and anxiety. A peasant-fish out of water.

INCITING INCIDENT: Shuisheng witnesses a murder committed by the Tang mafia clan at the warehouse his uncle is taking him to.

PLOT POINT 1: Shuisheng witnesses the beautiful Bijou (Gong Li), Tang’s capricious lover, making love to Sony, the boss’s right-hand woman.

MIDPOINT EVENT: Shuisheng’s uncle and several other gang members are killed during a rival gang’s (Fat Yu) failed attempt on Tang’s life. Tang retreats to a small remote island, takes Bijou and Shuisheng with him, and thinks of revenge. [Transition to a DIFFERENT WORLD.]

PLOT POINT 2: In a face-to-face confrontation, Tang reveals that he is fully aware of Sony’s plans to assassinate him in Fat Yu’s service and the fact that Bijou slept with Sony.

ACT THREE RESOLUTION: Tang kills both Sony and Bijou, and takes Shuisheng back to Shanghai along with the girl he met on the island to take Bijou’s place in the future.

…sound of water, rough waves hitting Tang’s ship…

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