The modest charmer "Shanghai Calling" tells the story of a hotshot New York lawyer of Chinese descent (Daniel Henney) whose path to partnership means a three-month stint in Shanghai first. Sent to kick-start a satellite office and presumably facilitate deals because of his race, Sam Chao is primarily a hapless, aggressively Westernized, culture-impaired transplant who doesn't speak the language and doesn't care about fitting in.
As a lead character, Sam makes for a nifty jumping-off point for writer-director Daniel Hsia's cross-cultural comedy about the fine line between expat and immigrant in the new global economy. There are also romantic possibilities with a blond, U.S.-born, Shanghai-assimilated relocation specialist (a winning Eliza Coupe), a subplot with a hardworking legal assistant (Zhu Zhu) of hardscrabble means and high ambitions, and a moral-quandary story involving Sam's blunder-filled navigation of a billion-dollar technology deal.
Hsia has an appealingly slick visual style for the fast-paced if predictable turns in Sam's story, shooting the gleaming, bustling Shanghai as if it had finally earned its big-Hollywood-romantic-comedy stripes as a setting for the usual fish-out-of-water jokes, broad humor, meet-cutes, silly coincidences and happy endings. Shanghai may always be changing, says one character toward the end, but "Shanghai Calling" — agreeable as it is in its newness of locality — proves how often movies don't.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some language including sexual references;
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena