When ambitious New York attorney Sam is sent to Shanghai on assignment, he immediately stumbles into a legal mess that could end his career. With the help of a beautiful relocation specialist, a well-connected old-timer, a clever journalist, and a street-smart legal assistant, Sam might just save his job, find romance, and learn to appreciate the beauty and wonders of Shanghai. That experience is the subject of a romantic comedy but it differs as, the film makes sure the characters maintains an easy likability, even when he is cruising for his ego bruising. Likewise, Eliza Coupe is like a cross between vintage Meg Ryan and Bonnie Hunt as Wilson, the harried single mother.
The movie’s American director, Daniel Hsia, is a former TV comedy writer whose parents were born in Shanghai. While many films about China are either historical costume dramas or kung-fu spectacles, Hsia says he wanted to make one that captured contemporary life in all its messy complexity. Shanghai Calling had a different edge where it focused on the American entrepreneur aspect in foreign countries, something which I believe was the strongest part the film had to offer. That might limit its documentary value, but it is rather pleasant as an East-meets-West courtship (of both the personal and professional varieties).
The plot was a bit contrived in parts but the hilarity and humanity more than made up for the cheese. The characters were interesting, each representing a facet of life in modern Shanghai, from the traditional struggling Asian family to the corporate American bigwigs. The actors were spot on. The location was amazing, showcasing the best and worst of the city. The editing and camerawork were fascinating, incorporating angles and effects to tell the story without making it seem like too much of an “art film.” As an Asian-American who considers romantic comedies very much a guilty pleasure, it was an absolute home run. I walked out of the theater immediately wanting to tell everyone I knew (who liked romantic comedies) to see it. I don’t believe it has a release date yet but I cannot wait for it to come out. If you want to see a hilarious feel-good movie, are curious about life in Shanghai, or just love romantic comedies, I cannot recommend this film enough.
The biggest surprise is the performance of Korean-American actor-model Daniel Henney, who I saw in Wolverines Origins and was glad to see him get more roles. The one criticism (and what do I know?) is that he is too rigid in his emotional range. This prevents him from truly delving into the immense pressure the character was given. Aside from that, at a rom-com level, the characters are believable and develop in interesting ways, and the locals are no more stereotypical than the Americans. This film is also an exploration into the timely topic of “Americans as immigrants” in a faraway land. As one of our characters points out, Americans living abroad call themselves “expats” instead of “immigrants,” perhaps because the latter term brings to mind poor, huddled masses rather than the sophisticated jet-setters we are. But as China continues to grow while the U.S. economy struggles, more and more of us are, in fact, seeking jobs overseas, and in the process discovering what means to become a modern-day “immigrant.” It’s a fascinating paradigm shift for many Americans, and one that is ripe for comedy as well.