Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

As I have observed and noted through the thousands of films that I’ve seen in the past two years, choosing to be an actor is tough, but I have observed that choosing to be an actor coupled with being African American is doubly difficult.  Not that that previous statement isn’t true but there was some movie I was watching, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was, but there was yet another Asian prostitute in this thing and then I realized while being an African American Actor may be doubly difficult, being an Asian American actor must be even more difficult still.  At least Black people (one of which I am in case you weren’t aware) have a small cottage DTV film industry of thrillers, romances, horrors, crass comedies and of course hood flicks that do provide black actors with employment.  I’d be the first to let you know that more times than not these flicks are awful, because for every one ‘All About You’ there are at least ten ‘Preachin’ to the Sistas’, but at least they do exist.  Asian Americans, as far as I know have absolutely nothing even remotely resembling this.  I’m sure there are numerous reasons this occurs, not the least of which is that the moniker of ‘Asian’ lumps in people from a good twenty different countries with twenty different cultures and language dialects, same as the moniker ‘Latin’ does, but ‘Black’ for reasons beyond the scope of this article (even though one should know already) is historically a monolith.  So when the casting call for the film ‘Shanghai Kiss’ went out, I’m sure Asian actors from near far were in attendance for just the opportunity to be in a flick where there were no prostitutes, no kung-fu, no waiters or any – insert your stereotype here – parts to play.  The end result was a very entertaining breezy little romantic comedy, a little uneven perhaps, but certainly one worth seeing.

Ken Leung is Liam Lui, a first generation thirty something Chinese American who has dropped out of Columbia in New York and has been living in Los Angeles for the last couple of years trying to make it as an actor.  After yet another demoralizing but typical audition, Ken is on the bus where he is being sketched by a cute teenaged

blond girl sitting across from him.  Despite his apprehension he begins a platonic relationship with the bubbly Adel (Hayden Panettiere) though Adel considers themselves boyfriend and girlfriend regardless.  Liam is struggling with just about everything in his life as he hates his drunk father (James Hong), he can’t maintain a relationship with a female over the age of sixteen, his car has been towed, his career is nonexistent and cries all the time like little bitch.  When his dad calls him to inform the young man that his grandmother, a woman he’s never met, has passed and left him her house in Shanghai, Liam takes off to China to sell the house and get that cash and hopefully stop living off his dad.

Things change for Liam in Shanghai as for the first time in his life he is no longer Chinese but just a guy in the street which I imagine would be quite a revelation.  Things go from better to freaking fantastic when he meets the beautiful Micki (Kelly Hu) and the two form a rather fast romantic relationship.  Convinced that he belongs in Shanghai, Liam moves into his grandma’s house and everything is all hunky dory.  Of course, there are complications and confrontations which derail Liam’s much desired happiness, ultimately leaving the man more confused than ever, but ultimately clearing the way to the revelation that he’s been searching for in his life.  Film at 10.

There is an awful lot to like about ‘Shanghai Kiss’ from Ken Leung’s performance as the confused and oft times unlikable Liam, and Hayden Pantettiere, who along with being cheek pinching cute is an extremely talented young actress whose potential is virtually unlimited.  Toss in a fine performance from Kelly Hu who is arguably one of the planet earths best looking people and a pair of directors in David Ren and Kern Konweiser who were able to handle the wealth of talent at their disposal and you have yourself a film where the least of its problems are the performances of its leads.  Unfortunately for actor Byron Mann, who makes a glorified cameo as a Chinese gangster – and almost steals the movie in his cameo, only had one scene and Mr. Mann is one of the better actors, in my opinion, working today.  Alas, if here weren’t Asian he’d probably be in more stuff which is kind of the point of this film I suppose.

Because there were so many relationships and the movie had a lot of important characters some of them didn’t work for me or were underdeveloped.  I didn’t buy why Kelly Hu’s character of Micki was so infatuated with Liam, though one has to admire Liam’s uncanny ability to close deals on the first night.  Micki’s character was very sketchy with only a perfunctory glossing of her history provided late in the proceedings.  The same could be said for Panettiere’s Adel, though her character received more coverage than Micki, one still has to wonder what the kid saw in this guy twice her age, depressed, sour, insulting but admittedly funny though he may be.  Humor does kill.  I guess the heart wants what the heart wants – that line comes from the movie by the way.  Veteran actor James Hong takes a break from making beer commercials and also makes a cameo as Liam’s dad, and again, this was a relationship was sketchy at best and wrapped up a little too neatly.

But what works in ‘Shanghai Kiss’ works well as I found it extremely entertaining and very humorous from start to finish and ultimately that’s all I really care about.  Certainly a film that deserves to be seen by a wider audience than it will probably be delivered to, ‘Shanghai Kiss’ is that rarest of romantic comedies that don’t suck.  Believe me, that is very rare indeed.

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