Shanghai Calling: Film Review

By-the-numbers romance has some property by the Yangtze it would like to sell you.

Daniel Hsia outsources romantic comedy in this lightweight tale of love among expats.

A rom-com where finding love is less important than acknowledging the up-and-comingness of China's largest city, Daniel Hsia's Shanghai Calling is boosterish enough to have been ghost-written by that town's Board of Tourism. Small flashes of wit aren't sufficient to distinguish this generic feature, or to broaden its appeal beyond those Sino-American immigrants who may find its table-turning premise amusingly novel.

Daniel Henney plays Sam Chow, a thoroughly Westernized second-generation Chinese-American who, thinking he's about to be made partner in his NYC-based law firm, is instead sent to run their new Asian office. His fish-out-of-water errors in Shanghai are made considerably less amusing by Sam's condescension to those around him, especially the two capable women -- office assistant Fang Fang (Zhu Zhu) and relocation specialist Amanda (Eliza Coupe), a blonde American fluent in Mandarin -- trying to help him get acclimated.

Sam's cultural cluelessness is soon matched by professional disaster, when his cellphone-manufacturer client sees tech innovations he has licensed ripped off by another firm. Realizing only locals (like the "mayor of Americatown," a fast-food restaurateur played by Bill Paxton) can help him shut the pirates down before he loses his job, Sam reluctantly employs Awesome Wang, an unassuming journalist who moonlights as a fixer for the expat community.

Strike "expat" and make that "immigrant": In between the connect-the-dots beats that soon draw Sam and Amanda together, the script finds numerous opportunities to explain that Shanghai isn't the Siberia Sam believes it to be -- that it's a land of opportunity where modest fry cooks transform themselves into politicians, men with ideas become industrial titans, new lives are begun.

China is also a place where distinctive cinematic visions can be found, drawing on local sensibilities to produce work that barely resembles Hollywood fare. Shanghai Calling, despite its China-proud proselytizing, clearly still believes in American superiority where storytelling is concerned.

Production Company: China Film Co., Ltd., Americatown LLC

Cast: Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe, Geng Le, Zhu Zhu, Alan Ruck, Bill Paxton

Director-Screenwriter: Daniel Hsia

Producer: Janet Yang

Executive producers: Xia Zheng, Zhao Yu-Ting

Director of photography: Armando Salas

Production designer: Yu Baiyang

Music: Klaus Badelt, Christopher Carmichael

Costume designer: Wang Haiyan

Editor: Pamela March

No rating, 100 minutes