Ah, the 2012 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is here. It’s that one time of the year where a truck load of Asians and Asian Americans in the entertainment industry here in LA come to mingle amongst themselves for a showcase of films that they are either part of or come to watch in support of their fellow actors in the community. On opening nights especially, it would not be surprising to see well known faces like Daniel Dae Kim, Tamilyn Tomita, or a certain bum milling about named Edward Hong with his jeans and t-shirt bought from Target. For the next 10 days, I will be watching over 12 films in the next 10 days and for all of them, I will be giving a review for each and every one of them.
When I say review, I don’t mean nice, fluffy words of wonderful praise and compliment. When I say review, I mean review. So if it’s good, it’s good. But if it’s bad, then it’s bad and I won’t have any hesitation in saying so. However, I will always point out the positive aspects for every film so that it doesn’t look like I’m a venomous screeching monkey. So let’s kick it with our first LAAPFF review of the year, which is the opening film Shanghai Calling, directed by Daniel Hsia and starring Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe, and Bill Paxton.
Starring international heartthrob Daniel Henney, SHANGHAI CALLING is a romantic comedy about modern-day American immigrants in an unfamiliar land. When an ambitious New York attorney (Daniel Henney) is sent to Shanghai on assignment, he immediately stumbles into a legal mess that could spell the end of his career. But with help from a beautiful relocation specialist, a well-connected foreign businessman, a clever but unassuming journalist, and a street-smart assistant, Sam might just save his job, discover romance, and finally learn to appreciate the many wonders Shanghai has to offer.
Upon hearing about this film, my first immediate reaction was that this sounded extremely similar to Shanghai Kiss, another Asian American film with a “fish out of the water” theme element (but without the creepy under-aged romance that the 2007 film had). But Shanghai Calling had a different edge where it focused on the American entrepreneur aspect in foreign countries, something which I believe was the strongest part the film had to offer. It definitely was good to see the harmful impact that American entrepreneurs can create in foreign countries, especially when they don’t take the time to know the culture and subtleties of where they are.
The film was beautifully shot and it really does look like several million bucks went into this for what they were able to accomplish. It showed Shanghai in a exquisite modern and romantic light, which might have been the singular intention since the film is partnered with China Film Group Corporation and it wouldn’t be pleasing to China if they were portrayed in an unflattering light.
I almost do feel because this film had in mind to release in the States and in the Asian markets (especially China), the film was very too squeaky cute clean fun when it could have delved more in the manual labor world the film eventually touched upon near the end. It almost seemed too sterilized that the factory workers were smiling, happy, and that the work environment was something straight out of a Disney film. But more on the story and film itself.
The story is extremely predictable and after 15 minutes in, I already saw where the film would end. Obviously, with films like these, the predictability is not really the issue so therefore the strengths would lie in the charm and likability of the actors, which I felt for the most part delivered. The supporting cast helped color the world in with their unique personalities, especially in the case with Sean Gallagher who played Brad. This would be absolutely crucial because as charming as Daniel Henney is, his biggest problem that I see in all of his films (including this one) is that he is too rigid in his emotional range. This prevents him from truly delving into the immense pressure the character was given. I would have almost preferred to see the LAAPFF opener emcee, Steve Byrne, to take on the role instead because I believe he could go even further with the character. Since he’s ALSO Korean and Irish, maybe a switcheroo even?
I will give Henney the credit that he did alright with what he could despite his rigidity and if there’s one thing the man has in by the bundle, it’s charm. However, I certainly wish that he explore in becoming more comfortable going loose in future films. Like I said before, it would be his supporting cast that would help save the day in making the film the quirky, charming film that it is with Daniel Hsia’s strong sense of direction (which is quite a nice effort given it’s his first feature film directorial debut) and beautiful cinematography by Armando Salas.
Overall, I give this film 6.5 out of 10. Pros: Cute, funny, charming, beautifully shot. Cons: Extremely predictable, the lead is rather stiff, and the film is a bit too sterile especially when dealing with the factory worker issues.