“Shanghai Calling” is a fish out of water story filled with charm.
Korean-American actor Daniel Henney plays Sam, a Chinese-American lawyer who is sent to China to work on a big project. He does not speak Chinese and he knows very little about his heritage. He has never been further out of New York City than 79th Street. But he is ambitious and confident and is sure that he can make turn the project around quickly and make a triumphant return home.
“Happy Endings'” Eliza Coupe plays Amanda, Sam’s “relocation specialist,” an American single mother who is fluent in Chinese. Bill Paxton (“Big Love”) plays the head of the “Americaville” expatriate community, mostly made up of business people who have come to China to take advantage of the enormous economic opportunities. And Alan Ruck (Cameron from “Ferris Buehler”) is the client, a cell phone manufacturer who wants to lock in an exclusive deal with a quirky inventor. Sam also has an assistant named Fang Fang (Zhu Zhu of “Cloud Atlas”).
The skills that made Sam successful in New York just get him into deeper trouble in China. He unwisely ignores the advice from Amanda and Fang Fang, and ultimate discovers that his biggest failings come from his own unrecognized prejudices.
The laughter comes more from character than displacement mishaps. Coupe is lovely in a more natural, understated character than her hilarious Jane in “Happy Endings,” and Henney’s lanky appeal as he tries to cope with an avalanche of language and cultural challenges is a pleasure to watch. You will root for him to learn his lessons, save the day, and get the girl — and you will recognize and question your own assumptions and prejudices as well.
“Shanghai Calling” is in limited theatrical release, now available on Amazon instant video, on iTunes, and on demand.