corporate attorney Sam Chao is used to doing things his way. So is China.
China’s bigger. Temporarily
posted to the go-go city on the East China Sea, Chao is in for a steady diet of
culture clashes in director-screenwriter Daniel Hsia’s Shanghai Calling (trailer here), the 2012 Asian American International Film Festival’s opening night film, produced by this year’s Asian American
Media Award recipient, Janet Yang.
is not thrilled with his new assignment, but it is clear the partnership he
covets depends on his performance opening the Shanghai office. His firm has come to China because that is
where their most important client, eccentric industrialist Marcus Groff, has
relocated. Never really in touch with
his Chinese heritage, Chao does his level best to offend all his new colleagues
as quickly as possible, particularly his assistant Fang Fang and his expat
relocation specialist, Amanda Wilson.
Unfortunately, Chao is going to need their help when makes a hash of
Groff’s latest deal.
reasons that remain elusive, Fang Fang has eyes for the boss, whereas Chao
finds himself attracted to Wilson. That
would also seem to be an odd choice on his part, but it fits with Chao’s
cultural identity. He is the whitest guy
in the room, especially compared to Wilson and expat business community leader
Donald Cafferty, the “Mayor of Americatown.”
screenplay is quite astute observing the dynamics of the American business
community in Shanghai, contrasting the old school old guard, represented by
Cafferty, with the yuppie upstarts. It
definitely feels like Calling reflects
an insider’s perspective. However, the
vibe of the romantic subplots are a bit too Gary Marshall (even the poster
looks a bit reminiscent of New Year’s Eve). At least, Hsia keeps the cast of characters manageable.
Henney (geek-famous as Agent Zero in X-Men
Origins: Wolverine) maintains an easy likability, even when he is cruising
for his ego bruising. Likewise, Eliza
Coupe is like a cross between vintage Meg Ryan and Bonnie Hunt as Wilson, the
harried single mother. However, some of
the brightest lights are found in the supporting cast. In what could have easily been a shticky caricature,
Bill Paxton brings out the wit and humanity of “Mayor” Cafferty. Not just window dressing, Zhu Zhu (of the
Chinese remake of What Women Want) plays
Fang Fang with real spirit and sensitivity, while Geng Le has a nice
understated nerd charisma as Awesome Wang, a journalist-fixer often hired by
is not interested in muckraking.
When Chao crashes the factory bootlegging Groff’s revolutionary cell-phone,
it looks nothing like the Foxconn NPR describes. Nor does it have anything to say about China’s
internet freedoms, or lack thereof. That
might limit its documentary value, but it is rather pleasant as an
East-meets-West courtship (of both the personal and professional
varieties). Though becoming more common,
such American-Chinese co-productions still must present challenges (indeed,
such is the basic premise of the film), so 2012 honoree Yang’s contributions as
producer are surely considerable. Recommended
for those who enjoy light cross-cultural rom-coms, Shanghai Calling screens tonight (7/25) as part of the 2012 AAIFF’s
opening gala and also on Saturday (7/28), but both showings are sold out, so
good luck queuing stand-by.
Labels: AAIFF '12, Bill Paxton, Janet Yang, Movie Romance, Zhu Zhu