Title: Shanghai Calling
Director: Daniel Hsia
Starring: Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe, Geng Le, Zhu Zhu, Alan Ruck, Bill Paxton
A vibrant, fun, cross-cultural romantic comedy with echoes of “Jerry Maguire,” writer-director Daniel Hsia’s “Shanghai Calling” tells the story of a multimillion-dollar business deal gone sideways, and a man scrambling to make things right while also incrementally, almost subconsciously, experiencing an attitudinal shift in priorities. Offbeat scenarios, a fresh backdrop and warm performances enliven this surprising, Chinese-shot treat, which makes great use of its cast without ever sacrificing the integrity of its characters.
Sam Chou (Daniel Henney) is a white-collar corporate lawyer who’s completely comfortable with his cutthroat mentality. Tasked by his New York firm’s partners with a three-month stint in China, Sam begrudgingly accepts. Upon arrival in Shanghai he immediately rubs the wrong way both his new assistant, Fang Fang (Zhu Zhu), and Amanda Wilson (Eliza Coupe), a single mother who works arranging lodging and otherwise smoothing the transition for fellow American immigrants. When Sam seemingly screws up an important deal on a proprietary cell phone technology brought to him by Marcus Groff (Alan Ruck), Sam finds himself in need of assistance. Among those he turns to are Donald Cafferty (Bill Paxton), an ex-pat restaurant entrepreneur and the mayor of Americatown (the film’s original title), the tight-knit community of American citizens in the city; Awesome Wang (Geng Le), an investigative journalist; and Amanda, with whom he seems to have more than a simple friendship. As things progress, Sam is forced to question his moral compass and personal business ethnics.
In his feature directorial debut, Hsia’s experience with American TV — he’s written for “Psych” and the short-lived 2007 Andy Richter sitcom “Andy Barker, P.I.” — come through via the witty interplay of his characters and rich shading of supporting players, but his deft touch with actors is also evident. Pleasingly, “Shanghai Calling” doesn’t settle for wan surface ambition in its protagonist. Sam is more than just a little cocksure; he is in fact at first kind of an asshole, not like Ryan Gosling’s character in “Fracture,” or Bill Murray’s in “Groundhog Day,” to name two very different movies. This roots Sam’s cultural isolation — he speaks no Chinese, whereas Amanda speaks fluently — and consequently makes Henney’s performance, with its slow dissipation of bluster, not just a real pleasure to watch, but a believable one as well.
Cinematographer Armando Salas leads an able stable of below-the-line artisans, delivering a nice look along with a variety of locations; Hsia also incorporates a small handful of animated or textual flourishes. Mainly, though, this is a smart little comedy of manners which has fun tweaking racial and social expectations. “Shanghai”‘s call is well worth answering.
NOTE: “Shanghai Calling” opens in Los Angeles at the Mann Chinese 6 and at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and is also available across VOD and digital platforms, including iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, Google Play and more. To view the trailer, visit vimeo.com/36250274. For more information, visit the movie’s website at www.ShanghaiCalling.com.
Written by: Brent Simon