Movie Interview - 'Shanghai Calling' Director Daniel Hsia The romantic comedy Shanghai Calling tells a fish-out-of-water story about a New York attorney on assignment in China. Frank Langfitt went to the Shanghai premiere and spoke with Chinese-American director Daniel Hsia about the film and the growing number of American professionals in China.
NPR logo

'Shanghai': A Rom-Com Look At Americans In China

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/149462398/149973203" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Shanghai': A Rom-Com Look At Americans In China

'Shanghai': A Rom-Com Look At Americans In China

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/149462398/149973203" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Chinese do export a lot to the United States. Americans also export to China, and that includes exporting American talent. Young professionals move to China to ride its economic boom. Their sometimes chaotic lives are the subject of a new romantic comedy called "Shanghai Calling." It arrives on the U.S. film festival circuit next month. It's already been screened in Shanghai, where NPR's Frank Langfitt had a look.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHANGHAI CALLING")

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Sam Chao is a hot-shot, Chinese-American lawyer assigned to Shanghai. But he speaks no Chinese and has no clue how the country works. Soon after he arrives, he learns a product made by his biggest client is apparently being pirated all over town.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHANGHAI CALLING")

LANGFITT: Intellectual property rights - or lack thereof - is just one of the issues played for laughs in this independent film, which was made for less than $3 million dollars. Another is Shanghai's blistering pace of change.

In this scene, Sam, played by a Korean-American actor named Daniel Henney, is shown his new apartment by a relocation agent. It's a luxury spread overlooking the river. There's just one problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHANGHAI CALLING")

LANGFITT: Anyone in Shanghai - either Chinese or the tens of thousands of foreigners who call it home - knows drilling is the city's inescapable soundtrack.

DANIEL HSIA: My name is Daniel Hsia. I'm the writer-director of a film called "Shanghai Calling.""

LANGFITT: Hsia is an American and former TV comedy writer whose parents were born here. "Shanghai Calling" is his first movie, and he's looking for a U.S. distributor.

Many films about China are either historical costume dramas or kung-fu spectacles. Hsia said he wanted to make one that captured contemporary life in all its messy complexity.

HSIA: The majority of people in America have very little idea of what is actually happening in China. And at the same time, the majority of people in China have very little idea of what all these foreigners are doing in their country.

LANGFITT: The movie is in Chinese and English and features both Chinese and American actors. They include Hollywood veteran Bill Paxton, whose character recounts a rags-to-riches tale familiar in expatriate circles here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHANGHAI CALLING")

LANGFITT: There's no Americatown in Shanghai. But there might as well be. Some expat communities are so insulated, you'd never know you were in China.

The film also explores the lives of the ordinary Shanghainese. They include Fang Fang, Sam's street-smart Chinese assistant, who favors luxury brands. Then Sam catches her working a second job at a night club.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHANGHAI CALLING")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LANGFITT: In this nouveau riche city where appearance can be everything, many people will relate.

Cast members saw the movie for the first time last week and say it nailed life here. But Arran Hawkins, who plays an English teacher in the film, wonders how it will resonate with people outside China.

ARRAN HAWKINS: It's fun film, but at the same time, maybe some of the humor might be lost because they haven't experienced it first hand.

LANGFITT: Daniel Hsia hopes that for people who don't know China, "Shanghai Calling" will be the next best thing. The movie is scheduled to debut at film festivals in Los Angeles and Newport Beach in May. And Hsia says he expects it to be released in China later this year.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.