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