Shanghai Calling 





Shanghai Calling
Made in: USA, China
Language: English, Chinese (Mandarin)
Director: Daniel Hsia
Starring: Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe, Zhu Zhu, Bill Paxton, Alan Ruck, Lu Cai, Geng Le, Sean Gallagher
Year: 2012

Synopsis: Sam Chao (Daniel Henney) is an up and coming attorney working for a big-name firm. His superiors send him to China for a three-month assignment, which he isn't too enthusiastic about. His job is to make sure that the manufacturing contract of a technologically advanced smartphone goes smoothly for Marcus Groff (Alan Ruck), a major client.

Although of Chinese heritage, Sam has lived his entire life in New York, doesn't speak a word of Mandarin, and barely knows anything about Chinese culture.

Finding himself in Shanghai and encountering culture shock at every turn, Sam has a rough time adjusting to his new office. However, he at least finds some solace with fellow ex-pat and relocation specialist Amanda (Eliza Coupe), goofy English teacher Brad (Sean Gallagher), and American ex-pat community leader Donald (Bill Paxton).

Although his assignment seems pretty straightforward, Sam quickly encounters serious trouble when another local businessman begins manufacturing and selling the same smartphone that Groff claims to have exclusive rights to. With billions of dollars at stake, Sam also finds his career in serious jeopardy.

A hard test of character ensues, where Sam learns that blind ambition, success, and happiness don't necessarily appear on the same path.

The Good: Shanghai Calling is a clean, good-natured romantic comedy. The cast is appealing, and Daniel Henney does a pretty effective job as a leading man. But much credit should also go to Chinese actors Zhu Zhu, Geng Le, and Lu Cai, all of whom bring a dose of authentic charm that keeps the movie down to earth.

The story moves at a good pace, and although the romantic elements are pretty formulaic, the third act contains an interesting twist that makes for an original feel. 

Director Daniel Hsia tries to make us laugh at predictable points throughout the movie, but the most effective jokes come in the form of quick, witty lines and smaller, more touching moments.

The Bad: Shanghai Calling doesn't start off all that well. The acting is a little stilted and awkward (as is some of the editing), and Daniel Henney seems to try way too hard at first. Also, the city of Shanghai feels a little small and a bit too glossy. The jokes are largely hit or miss until the second half of the movie, and the first half feels pretty self-conscious.

Who would like this film: This one's for you if you're in the mood for a lighthearted, feel-good romantic comedy. Those who have worked or studied in a foreign country (such as China), as well as children of Chinese immigrants will also find a lot to identify with. 

Shanghai Calling manages to touch upon a number of modern issues such as globalization, relationships, living abroad, cultural identity, and China's rapid economic development without losing focus on the plot. 

The movie's not perfect, and I felt it could have been a little more hard-edged, particularly when it comes to some of the sleazier ex-pats one finds while living abroad. I was also surprised that there was no reference to China's authoritarian regime (which is still very much there) in the midst of capitalism's rise. 

But as a story, it works well for what it is and proves to be an entertaining picture with a feel-good message.

(3 out of 4 stars)


Review written by: Joe Yang



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