Oh, Reel-y: Asian Americans Abroad in Asia, Alliteratively

Shanghai Calling
2012

Shanghai Calling hits all the cultural discord notes of the American abroad storyline, but adds a “homecoming” spin. Sam is a successful Chinese-American attorney in New York on the cusp of making partner when his superiors send him to Shanghai. While he initially can’t wait for his three-month tenure to end, he slowly finds a sense of community with the expat population there.

While Shanghai Calling is a charming, witty, and funny movie with a strong cast, including Bill Paxton and Alan Ruck (of Ferris Bueller and Speed fame), this cynic has a few quibbles. The film commits the faux pas of casting the ethnically ambiguous Daniel Henney as a Chinese-American (he’s Irish-Korean, ahem), although Henney is dashing and charismatic as the leading man. And aside from some establishing and exposition shots, the film rarely ventures into the heart of Shanghai or explores the local culture and lifestyle, preferring to remain in its expat enclaves. Finally, the film was definitely made with the notorious Chinese censors in mind, as the movie avoids any outright criticism of China. In fact, it goes as far as to portray an Apple-esque factory in as flattering a light as possible, which smacks of propaganda given recent criticisms.

Nevertheless, with its likable cast and a feel-good vibe, mainstream American audiences likely will find Shanghai Calling, unlike some traditional Chinese cuisines, light and palatable, should it find a deserved wide release.

***

$upercapitalist
2012

$upercapitalist, making its world premier, was the centerpiece presentation at this year’s AAIFF. Unfortunately, this movie was anything but super. It’s about a cocky hedge fund hotshot from New York who moves to Hong Kong and overcomes greed, corruption, and the allure of the high life to “do the right thing,” but the plot’s muddled and plodding, and, like a financial bubble, the movie’s all shiny surface with nothing underneath. (Metacommentary? Self-parody?) Sure, the film is well-shot, but it’s riddled with cliches, overacting, and unearned sentimentality. It gets its visual cues–and soundtrack–from hip hop videos with Entourage-esque montages of hookers and blow, but the protagonist’s transformation from an unscrupulous supercapitalist to a supercapitalist with a heart is unconvincing.

Plus, the movie really lost me when it depicted a poker hand of AA versus KK on a flop of AAK (for non-poker players, the probability of this happening is, if my math is correct, 3/585,307,450, or about 1 in 200 million, which is worse odds than you had to win the Mega Millions back in March). And this in a movie ostensibly about finance and numbers. C’mon Asian American filmmakers, let’s at least get the gambling and the math part of the movie remotely realistic. We have stereotypes to uphold here.

My favorite part of the movie was probably the snazzy opening title sequence. The film’s stock just plummets from there.

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