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  More information on this and other releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment is available online at and and

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Disney Oz Adaptation’s Bonus Features Give Movie New Life On Home Release

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  Who doesn’t know that old adage?  Not to spoil the movie too much for that have yet to see it, but it is this adage that serves as the basis for Disney’s new live action/CGI based Oz The Great and Powerful.  This latest big screen adaptation of author L. Frank Baum’s Oz books was met largely with mixed reviews when it premiered in early 2013.  The fact that it was released to DVD and Blu-ray only a couple months after didn’t bode well for this movie.  Luckily for the movie, the bonus features included in its home release have managed to save it and make it worthy of a second watch.

The hybrid live action/CGI origin story of the wizard and the witch does an impressive job in its attempts to pay homage to The Wizard of Oz.  The sets used for the Emerald City are just as impressive as those used in the earlier story.  That the film makers would try to stay as true as possible to Baum’s fantasy world is worthy of at least some praise.  Making their efforts even more worthy of praise is what is revealed in the behind-the-scenes feature, “Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas To Oz.”  Viewers learn in this feature that CGI was only one method of movie magic used in this movie.  It is revealed that actual puppets were used in conjunction with CGI elements in order to bring both the China Girl and Finley to life.  It isn’t very often in this era of largely computer driven special effects blockbusters see such a style of special effects used.  So even in this aspect, it is nice to see that those behind the cameras would go so far in paying tribute to classic film making.

The use of puppets was quite an impressive revelation about this story’s creation.  In connection, the use of CGI to put the faces of Joey King and Zach Braff onto the China Girl and Finley was just as worthy of praise.  It would have been easy to just use CGI based creations and had the pair voice them.  But instead, their faces were put onto the pair. There is something special about this.  Even Sweeter was that both king and Braff voiced their characters.  It shows again the drive to make the story as believable as possible.  It was very nice to see the charged with making this happen took their jobs so seriously.  It proves yet again the importance of bonus features in the home release of any movie.

Viewers that check out the feature focusing on the special effects and general production values of Oz The Great and Powerful will hopefully gain new respect for the film.  If it doesn’t achieve its intended goal, then perhaps the companion feature, “Walt Disney and the Road To Oz” will help in that effort.  It is a much shorter feature in comparison to the previously mentioned bonus feature.  But it goes quite well in companion to the behind-the-scenes feature.  Viewers learn in this companion piece that Walt Disney had actually wanted for years before his death, to bring to life his own take on Baum’s works in a movie titled, The Rainbow Road to Oz.  Yet for a variety of reasons, he never did see those efforts bear any fruit before his passing in 1966.  It wouldn’t be until 1985 that the company bearing his name would see the release of an Oz-centric story in Return to Oz.  This movie was nowhere near as family friendly as the hit 1939 blockbuster that was The Wizard of Oz.  Keeping all of this in mind in watching Oz The Great and Powerful, one can’t help but have at least some extra respect for everything that went into bringing this latest adaptation to life.  And with any luck, viewers will understand in watching these (and the movie’s other bonus features) that this latest film adapted from Baum’s books is worthy of at least one watch.  For those that saw it in theaters, they will hopefully see that it is worth a second watch.

Oz The Great and Powerful is available now on a variety of platforms.  It is available both in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Disney Store and Disney DVD store at and

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Oz Is Good, Not Great

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Oz The Great and Powerful is one more example of why Hollywood has got to break away from its seemingly unending trend of churning out sequels, prequels, and remakes.  It is a good movie in its own right, thanks to the set design, special effects, and costume/makeup department.  But in terms of its story, it suffers to the point that it largely becomes memorable only for those factors.  The combination of special effects, set design, and costume design are more than worthy of applause in their attempts to bring older audiences back to the world of Oz after nearly seventy-four years since that world first appeared to the masses.  They are just as laudable for introducing younger audiences to the world of Oz for the first time.  For the positives, there are two noticeable negatives to the overall presentation.  Those negatives are the intertwining of lead actor James Franco’s acting and the overall story.  In weighing these factors together, Oz The Great and Powerful becomes more a movie that will be remembered less as one of Disney’s standout greats, and more as just another in the ongoing mass of prequels, sequels, and remakes constantly being churned out by Hollywood.

The combination of set design, costumes, and special effects goes a long way toward the success of Oz The Great and Powerful.  The set designers did an impressive job of balancing actual physical sets and CG backgrounds.  One can really tell that a lot of thought and work went into bringing back the world of Oz.  As hard as the set designers tried though, it lacks a certain something that the sets from the previous movie had.  Perhaps the problem with the sets in this movie was that those who crafted them tried too hard to pay tribute to the original work.  The result is that it didn’t feel as….pure.  They felt “spit-shined” for lack of better wording.  Though, the special effects make up for that.  That is especially the case late in the movie when it is revealed how the Wizard’s famous floating head originally came to be.  That effect alone is worth the wait.  It’s really the best special effects moment in the entire two-hour plus story.

The sets and special effects play their own role in the overall outcome of this story, as has been noted.  They are only part of the movie’s positive side.  Just as impressive as the sets and special effects are the costumes and makeup.  While Disney wasn’t behind The Wizard of Oz, those behind the creation of this work are to be commended for creating costumes that throw back to the original movie, right down to the guards’ uniforms.  And while some might have their own thoughts on the witch’s costume, one must take into account that this is a prequel.  Therefore, the costume had to fit the person and personality.  Of course, speaking of the witch, this is where things get bad for Oz The Great and Powerful.

So much went right for Oz The Great and Powerful in looking at the sets, costumes, and special effects.  What went wrong with the movie was the script and the acting of one James Franco.  The whole story of Oz The Great and Powerful is an origin story of sorts.  It tells not only of how the Wizard came to be the famed figure that he was, but also of how the Wicked Witch came to be wicked.  Not to give away too much, but the two stories play together as they are centered on a figure who is a completely immature young man and three sisters who throw themselves at him just like the women back in Kansas.  Oz plays all three of the sisters just as he played the women back in Kansas.  One of those sisters ends up becoming the now infamous Wicked Witch of the West.  Even as the movie nears its finale, it is difficult to believe Oz has any sincerity as he faces off with the Wicked Witch.  One wants to root for Oz, but it’s next to impossible as at every chance he has to grow, he instead maintains his cocky nature right up to the end.  Yes, he’s a young character, being that this is a prequel.  But it would have been nice to see some personal growth and humility as the Wizard at least showed in The Wizard of Oz.  But that doesn’t happen.  Because of that, there’s no real moral lesson learned here.  There is not even an actual romance story so to speak.  In the end, what everything boils down to with Oz The Great and Powerful is that this movie will be more memorable less for its story or acting than for its production values.  Keeping this in mind, it will largely be one of Disney’s less memorable movies in its decades long list of much better movies.  Because of that, it is a movie that is worth at least one watch, but really not much more.