Latest in wave of surprisingly frank features from China, Andrew Cheng’s vid-shot drama “Shanghai Panic” offers a willfully loose yet diverting look at rudderless club kids doing drugs and each other in an urban milieu well off the official tourist maps. Improvisational in feel — though adapted from a novel by oft-banned underground writer Mian Mian — shoestring feature should spark interest among fest programmers, with prospect of fringe home-format release in foreign turfs to follow.
The underground author herself plays Kika, den mother to a crew of youths interested mostly in getting high and hitting the clubs. Handsome Bei (Li Zhinan) is an ex-ballet dancer who fears his recent ill health is due to AIDS — not that he or any of his pals are very well informed about that subject. He’s been stringing along occasional girlfriend and prostitute Fifi (Yang Yuting), but professes his real love is Jie (Zhao Ke), another male dancer less willing to abandon his heterosexual identity. Androgynous Casper (He Weiyan) seems unclear as to what she wants. Virtual one-man show for helmer turns rough edges to good advantage, holding attention even when narrative grows opaque or aimless.