The 13th annual Newport Beach Film Festival will close Thursday night to a sold-out crowd at the world premier of "Shanghai Calling" at the Regency Lido Theatre.
Written and directed by Daniel Hsia, the romantic drama stars Daniel Henney ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine," 2009), Eliza Coupe ("What's Your Number?" 2011), Bill Paxton, Alan Ruck, Geng Le and Zhu Zhu. The story follows Henney as Sam, a young Chinese American lawyer, who must go to Shanghai on business where cultural differences and a dramatic event threatens his career and love life.
The 98-minute film uses both dramatic and comedic elements to challenge audiences' preconceived notions of Chinese life and culture, while also exploring topics such as bi-cultural relationships and international business expansion.
"The world is turning on its head a little," Hsia said. "We've entered an age of globalization where you're meeting people that appear one way, but are completely not what you expect."
The film was written and produced over a three-year period and filmed in Shanghai, Hsia said.
Hsia, a first-generation Chinese American like Sam, shares both similarities and differences with the character who is designed to be an exaggerated archetype of someone with limited cultural experiences.
"I wasn't like Sam before I made the movie, but now that I'm done, I'm a little more like him," Hsia said. "I have a greater appreciation for all the wonderful people in China. We had some of the most talented and hardworking people on our crew."
Following two sold-out screenings at the NBFF, "Shanghai Calling" will open May 10 at the 28th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Reception in private screenings has been positive, Hsia said.
"Americans tend to come out of a screening and say, 'I had no idea that's what China looked like,'" Hsia said. "While Chinese audience members really enjoy laughing at the cultural mistakes made by the American lawyer."
Finding a balance that would appeal to both cultures was one of the film's main challenges, said producer Janet Yang, whose production work can also be seen in "The Year of the Fish," "The Weight of Water" and "The Joy Luck Club."
"I feel that it is particularly gratifying that we were able to make it believable and enjoyable on both sides of the Pacific," she said.
However, the film's sub-themes, such as the importance of family and doing what's right, also appeal to wider audiences, she said.
"Many people have had the experience of being a fish out of water," Yang said. "I believe, in that way, it is a relevant movie for just about everyone."