Directed by Daniel Hsia (a former television writer whose credits include a couple episodes of the comedy series "Psych") and starring Daniel Henney ("X-Men: Origins" and "The Last Stand"), the laughs in "Shanghai Calling" revolve around the fish-out-of-water experiences of an ambitious New York attorney, Sam (played by Henney), who is transferred to Shanghai on assignment, partially because he's Chinese-American, although he doesn't really speak any Mandarin.
As a fish-out-of-water or more likely snake-out-of-its-element, Sam stumbles into a legal mess that could spell the end of his career.
Once in Shanghai, he also finds himself attracted to Amanda (played by Eliza Coupe), who works as a relocation housing specialist.
Their romance is offset by another burgeoning romance involving Sam's assistant Fang Fang (played by Zhu Zhu) and a fellow office worker.
Suffice to say, the secondary romance probably deserved more screen time or a movie of its own. Zhu Zhu's character Fang Fang seemed to be lifted from a much better Chinese romance drama and dropped into this movie instead.
Although Henney and Coupe look very attractive as a couple and do their best to bring life to their characters, the movie never really builds to the type of uproarious crescendo that American audiences expect from their romantic comedies.
Additionally, the characters played by Bill Paxton and Alan Ruck deserved more screen time as does the expat area known as "Americatown" where their characters resided. The whole subplot involving Paxton's businessman/mayor of Americatown seems truncated.
Without spoiling the movie, Ruck's character also could have used more development in order to give the big twist at the end more of an impact.
Not surprisingly, Sean Gallagher, Lu Cai and Geng Le in supporting roles get some of the movies biggest laughs playing off Henney's character.
Director Hsia also relies a bit too much on low-budget indie filmmaking crutches such as the over-use of extended musical montages with travel tour images of Shanghai as transitions to pad the running time (98 minutes) and the sudden addition of a voice over from Geng Le's character to narrate a key portion of the movie.
Fans of Asian American movies may also note that some of the gags and story elements seemed to have been borrowed and/or used in other movies by Chinese-American writer-directors such as the Ken Leung movie "Shanghai Kiss" and Derek Ting's recent financial thriller "Supercapitalist" set in Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, as a whole, "Shanghai Calling" makes for a visually stimulating movie with some lighthearted comedy guffaws.
For more info on the movie go to: http://shanghaicalling.com