Shanghai Calling A Surprisingly Enjoyable Rom-Com

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz Media

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/Starz Media

The rom-com genre is one of the most difficult for which writers can do their job.  That’s because ever since Hollywood’s golden era, romantic comedies have been a staple for audiences.  It would seem that every story possible has been written in the decades since.  So the question is how does one write a story that is original and enjoyable at the same time?  Writer/Director Daniel Hsia has answered that question in the script for Shanghai Calling.  Somehow, he has managed to craft a story in Shanghai Calling that perfectly balances its central rom-com storyline with comedy that would seem more fitting for a stand-up comedy routine than a rom-com.  Yet it works perfectly within the context of this story.  In the end, the balance of the two elements makes Shanghai Calling a surprisingly enjoyable movie both for couples and anyone looking for a good laugh.

Shanghai Calling is a fitting watch for any couple looking for a good date night movie.  That’s thanks to the work of writer/director Daniel Hsia.  The central rom-com storyline centered on a person finding love in a foreign land is in itself not entirely original.  It’s been done.  What Hsia has done is he has taken that classic storyline and updated it for the 21st Century.  It sees a young up-and-coming lawyer named Sam (Daniel Henney—X-Men Origins: Wolverine) sent to China in order to work with a client that is trying to get his supposedly innovative new phone on the market.  The client in question is one Marcus Groff (Alan Ruck—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).  Hsia throws in just enough plot twists in this central storyline to keep audiences engaged from start to finish.  Along the way, Hsia throws in an interesting romance element for couples that is just as certain to keep them watching.  As he is dealing with the issues caused by Groff and his own bosses, Sam meets two young women.  At first glance, the use of two women and one man would lead to the cliché love triangle subplot used in so many rom-coms before this one.  But as noted already, Hsia ignores the standards used so many times before in crafting his story.  This is just one of those clichés that Hsia ignores.  Sam does end up falling in love with one of the two women, which leads in the story’s final minutes to another rom-com cliché being ignored in the standard boy gets girl back airport scene.  This is an element that far too many writers have used through the ages in their rom-coms.  Hsia completely avoids the cliché in question although he does hint at it.  That hinting at the classic element is as close as he comes to said element, though.  And for that, Hsia again deserves even more credit.

Daniel Hsia deserves more than his share of credit for crafting a story that while it is a rom-com, avoids so many pitfalls of nearly every rom-com that has come before his.  It makes this story bearable for even those that aren’t generally fans of said genre.  If the fact that he avoids those pitfalls isn’t enough to convince viewers of its worth, then the story’s cultural comedy is far more than enough.  The comic element tied into the story feels like material pulled right from a stand-up comedy act.  The cultural joke of Sam being of Chinese descent yet unable to speak Chinese is in itself funny.  His inability to speak the nation’s language leads to more than one hilarious moment at which audiences will find themselves laughing uproariously.  There are also plenty of other cultural jokes that audiences will love, including one told as Sam mistakes a cab driver for a monk.  The cab driver’s reaction to Sam’s mistake is one of the funniest of the jokes told throughout the movie.  The joke in question won’t be spoiled here.  Those that have yet to see this movie will appreciate it more when they hear it for themselves.  It’s just one more of so many incredibly funny moments that help drive the story and make it that much more entertaining and worth the watch.

Daniel Hsia has done an extraordinary job in combining the comic element and updated rom-com storyline in Shanghai Calling.  There is one more element for which he deserves credit in looking at the story’s overall writing.  That one last element is the fact that for all of its comic greatness, it would have been so easy for Hsia to take the easy road and incorporate a journey of self-discovery for Sam so to speak.  He does this somewhat in having Sam learn what’s really going on with his bosses and with his client.  But that is roughly the extent of that self-discovery.  Just as Hsia expertly avoids so many rom-com clichés, he also keeps the related dramatic elements to an extreme minimum, as evidenced here.  It’s one more victory for a movie that while it is an indie flick, is just as entertaining as any major studio’s rom-com past or present.  It will be available on DVD Tuesday, September 17th.  It can be ordered online direct from the Anchor Bay Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayent.com/detail.aspx?ProjectId=1f407439-18d8-e211-8257-d4ae527c3b65.  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com and http://www.facebook.com/AnchorBay and http://twitter.com/Anchor_Bay.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Les Miserables Not 2012’s Best, But Close To It

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The most obvious problem weighing down this latest adaptation of Les Miserables is its shooting style (I.E. its cinematography).  Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) makes a valiant attempt to bring out as much of the emotion as possible from each scene with his shooting style.  The problem is that he tried too hard.  Throughout the story’s near three-hour run time, this shooting style is so consistent that it could potentially leave audiences feeling somewhat dizzy and even confused.  The cameras spin, cut, and make every other possible transition so much that it leaves audiences not knowing where they are going to go next.  It happens so much that it would be no surprise if it leaves some audiences so bothered by it that it makes audiences contemplate just walking out because they can’t take feeling the way which they feel.  The issue with the shooting style is just the tip of the iceberg for this movie’s problems.  To make matters worse, the shooting style is at times linked directly to its problematic scene transitions.

Anyone who has seen Les Miserable live on stage knows that while they take time, the scene transitions are smooth enough to keep track of exactly what’s going on in the story.  The case with the latest on-screen adaptation is the polar opposite of the stage play.  The scene transitions in this version happen so fast that viewers almost need a program to keep up with what’s happening.  This is one of the areas in which Hooper obviously struggled to do honor to the legacy established by this timeless classic.  Rather than making smooth transitions, it felt almost as if much of the movie was just a load of scenes tied together with jump cut edits.  Add in that problematic shooting style, and audiences get a work that felt anything but fluid.  Rather it felt like each scene was piecemealed together.  The two factors together made the movie noticeably less enjoyable than it could have been, despite the outstanding performance on the part of both Jackman and co-star Anne Hathaway.

While Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) isn’t technically a veteran in the acting business, she surprisingly proved herself in the role of Fantine.  Her chops as a singer were the most impressive part of her performance.  The emotion with which she sang made her portrayal fully believable.  There are those who have alleged that she was doing little more than simply hamming it up for the cameras.  But that obviously isn’t the case.  Considering her previous roles, this could finally be the one to catapult her to the upper echelons of the movie industry.  And while he is already in the businesses’ upper echelons, the choice of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was common sense considering his current track record both on stage and screen.  He carried the movie on his shoulders.  Watching his moment of redemption at the story’s end will leave any viewer with more than just a tear in his or her eye.  Perhaps the only poor choice in casting this movie was that of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s portrayal of Inspector Javert worked on the superficial level.  He is old enough that he looked the part.  But his general performance simply was not believable.  Luckily that was about the only poor choice in casting this take on the time honored classic.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this take on Les Miserables has been nominated for a handful of Golden Globes.  And it would be no surprise if it makes the Oscar nod list more than once, too.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like”  it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Philip Sayblack can be contacted at psayblack@wnct.com