‘Shanghai Calling’ Movie Review: 'Shanghai Calling' Hangs Up Too Abruptly
Shanghai Calling is the quintessential “stranger in a strange land” romantic comedy: a foreigner, most often an American, is relocated to an exotic location like Italy or, in this case, China, and suffers severe culture shock. We have seen this countless times before in such films as Lost in Translation with Bill Murray, A Good Year with Russell Crowe, and Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane. After some misfortunes, they eventually begin to acclimate to their new surroundings with the help of a few friendly locals and discover how well they truly fit. It’s a simple plotline, one that unfortunately Shanghai Calling does little to reinvent.
The movie follows a lawyer, Sam (Daniel Henney), after he unwillingly agrees to oversee the Shanghai branch of his law firm. He expects to be named partner, but goes to China instead. Sam is out of his element as soon as he steps off the plane. He has bubbly relocation specialist Amanda (Happy Endings’ Eliza Coupe) to assist him in the transition, but he’s stubborn. When faced with the unfamiliar language, Sam consistently uses the excuse that he’s American, as if that would make communication any easier. He settles in Americatown, the Westernized section of Shanghai, in a luxury apartment that’s still under construction and which boasts a live-in nanny – Sam learns this the awkward way after he comes out of the shower. Around his neighborhood he meets bartender Donald (Bill Paxton), a fellow American who is the unofficial mayor of Americatown, Brad (Sean Gallagher), another American intent on bagging Chinese babes, and Fang Fang (Zhu Zhu), his love-struck legal assistant. What drives the film is Sam’s budding relationship with Amanda and his struggle to stop a wealthy manufacturer from producing inventor Marcus Groff’s (Alan Ruck) new and improved iPhone-like creation. Sam's friends advise him to enlist the help of a masked vigilante named Awesome Wang. Sam is uncertain, but after a series of mishaps, including buying out entire stores for their phone supply and using a fake lawyer, he finally surrenders and calls up Awesome Wang (Geng Le), who reveals himself as a mild-mannered geek with extensive connections. Together, Sam and Awesome Wang work to cease production on the phones before any more can be released.
Shanghai Calling is a cute, silly comedy. Henney holds his own as Sam, though most of the characters aren’t particularly memorable, perhaps because they lack interesting backstories…or perhaps they aren’t intended to be indelible. Brad, for instance, seems at first to have a greater role as comic relief, though he pops in and out too many times to fully connect with the audience. Donald, at one point in the film, loses the race to become official mayor of Americatown. Sam and Amanda are shocked by the vote, but should the viewer be too? The film offers nice shots of the city’s energy and daily routine, though I still felt removed from it when it ended. The city of Shanghai is as much a character in the movie as the other actors, but it wasn’t as compelling or fleshed out as previously expected. And so, when Sam finally begins to embrace the city, the viewer isn't given enough reason to warm up to it too.
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