In the spirit of the modern reverse migration phenomenon, “Shanghai Calling”, featuring Daniel Henny and Bill Paxton seems to have the right cultural and humorous elements for any moviegoer. While the studio has yet to announce an official release date, the film already secured a showing during the closing night of the Newport Beach Film Festival earlier this month.
So what makes this out-of-towner storyline different from, say, “Lost In Translation”? Before I get into that, here’s a brief synopsis.
When Sam (Henney), an ambitious New York lawyer is sent to Shanghai on assignment, he soon finds himself down the Yangtze without a paddle after a contract debacle. Nevertheless, with the support of a beautiful relocation specialist, a clever journalist and a few good-natured expats, Sam might just have what it takes to save his career and discover what he least expected to find abroad.
From what I’ve gathered from the trailer and various plot summaries, it is still unclear whether the character Sam is of Chinese heritage since the director cast Henney, a Korean American. There are however a few hints that he is. (I.e. “Don't you [speak Chinese?] and “I really treasure my heritage.”)
While this may seem an unimportant detail to some, I’m sure that any Chinese American who has traveled in the Mainland can understand why this nuance plays such a larger comedic role. As someone who as spent extensive time in Shanghai with a number of Chinese American friends, I don't think I’ve come across anything as unfair as their day-to-day experience.
As a non-Asian, the moment I utter even the simplest Mandarin sentence, I am greeted with exclamations of wonder and congratulations. On the flipside, my language classmates could be engaged in a serious economic debate with a local and not once will they receive any encouragement or good wishes. In most cases, to Chinese locals, anything short of perfect Mandarin from them is simply odd and often earns them skeptical looks. Because they look Chinese, it is simply expected of them to speak Chinese.
This curious detail certainly makes the plot of “Shanghai Calling” that much more hilarious since no one can be any more out of their element than an unassuming Chinese American caught in the confines of his legacy.
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