1926: Shanghai is regarded as the most opulent and decadent city in all of Asia, if not the world. European and American adventurers seeking exotic mystery arrive daily by the boatload to indulge in the legal opium and prostitution. HENRY, an American gangster on the run from the mob, and reporter MICKEY BURNETTE find themselves lost in Shanghai as it is about to become the front line in the Chinese civil war.
Stranded in Shanghai, Henry finds work in his old profession under local crime boss DU YUESHENG, whose concubine, LUCY CHANG, has eyes for Henry. Mickey falls for the charms of debonair entrepreneur VICTOR SASSOON, the nemesis of rival businessman DEGAR BEAUCHAMP, who is branching out into the opium trade in a dangerously haphazard way. While Henry learns the ways of the Shanghai mob, Mickey works the streets of Shanghai in search of provocative and intriguing stories to cover, which requires Victor to routinely come to her rescue.
“Look around you —every vice and pleasure time has ever known is here for our taking. I’m not going to let this go without one hell of a struggle. God . . . I love this city!”
— Morris “Two Guns” Cohen
The use of classic archetypal characters gives the audience familiar content, while the setting of Shanghai in the 1920s provides an exotic context. This mix of familiar content set in exotic context gives Shanghai Shanghai its universal appeal.
Throughout Season One, the threat of the encroaching civil war permeates life in Shanghai, as gangsters, businessmen, and military leaders play one against the other for survival. With the fall of Shanghai imminent, good-byes are said to the sound of artillery shells in the distance. Shanghai braces as Chiang Kai-shek’s troops reach the outskirts of the city only to unexpectedly halt.
Early the next morning, with the streets of Shanghai deserted, the citizens are awakened by gunfire . . . but whose?
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