Film Review: Shanghai Calling

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

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 ghostwritten 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.
The Hollywood Reporter