A romance set in 1930s Shanghai, this penultimate collaboration between director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, who died last May, makes good on the team's reputation for sober, starchy period drama. Ralph Fiennes is a former U.S. diplomat who's lost his sight in a terrorist explosion and now prowls the city's nightclubs, groping for both his surroundings and a convincing midwestern accent. He needs a woman with the right combination of “the erotic and the tragic” to be hostess of the new club he envisions, and he finds her in an exiled Russian countess (Natasha Richardson) now reduced to working as a taxi dancer. Like The Remains of the Day, one of Merchant-Ivory's biggest successes, this combines a delayed-gratification romance and rumblings of war—in this case the approaching Japanese imperial army. With Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave. PG-13, 135 min.
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