The Last Tycoon (out now on Blu-ray and DVD) plays as a mashup of Casablanca and The Godfather: Part II. Set in Shanghai, the movie follows the rise of Chinese gangster Cheng Daqi (played by the legendary Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat) and his heroic resistance against the Japanese invasion at the beginning of World War II.
The story details Cheng's rise with flashbacks that show a younger version of the character (played by Huang Xiaoming) and the beginnings of his romance with Peking opera star Ye Zhiqiu (Yuan Quan, with Feng Wenjuan playing the younger version).
A young Cheng is apprenticed to the local crime lord (played by the great martial arts star Sammo Hung, who gets to play both the younger and older versions of himself) and falls in love with local Shanghai singer Bao (Monica Mo, with Kimmy Tong playing young).
The crime bosses become the good guys once the Japanese invade, playing the role of resistance fighters while the Imperial Japanese Army are stand-ins for the Nazis. There's a lot of Casablanca-style personal sacrifice and changing of sides, climaxing in a theater scene that's not unlike the one Quentin Tarantino concocted for Inglourious Basterds.
Even though there's a lot of soapy romance (soundtracked by the kind of over-the-top music that Chinese moviemakers seem to love), the action bits are all first-rate.
Chow Yun-Fat is a mystery: it's been almost 25 years since he starred in The Killers and Hard Boiled and he seems to have barely aged. He's as reliably great as ever, still able to convey more of his character with a closed mouth and faraway stare than through any line delivery. He's the Hong Kong equivalent of Clint Eastwood and it's a shame that Hollywood never found anything better for him than The Replacement Killers.
The Last Tycoon was pretty obviously shot on digital video in a style that undercuts some of the real effort to make a quality period movie. The romance tends to slow things down but a little patience pays off in the final half hour, where the whole thing comes together and it's just Chow against the Japanese invaders.
The Blu-ray comes with a handful of special feature documentaries. You can also rent or buy the movie digitally at iTunes or Amazon.