Among this week's mediocre films, there was one surprise gem, Shanghai Kiss. It stars Ken Leung ("Lost") and Hayden Panettiere ("Heroes"). While Panettiere fills the DVD cover (pictured to the right), this film is really about Leung.
Leung plays Liam Liu, an Asian American that has been born and raised in NYC. A son of Chinese immigrants, he has never been to China, and doesn't speak Chinese. Running from the strained relationship with his drunken father, he heads to Los Angeles where he is an aspiring, no make that an out of work, actor. He struggles to pay the rent and find work, and a chance meeting on the bus finds him a girlfriend, of sorts. The issue is Adelaide (Panettiere) is considerably younger, much richer, and still in high school.
All right, so far this seemed to be not too different than plenty of other romantic comedies, but thankfully, we avoid the formula that's been overdone to the point of monotony. Rather Liam ends up inheriting a house in Shanghai from a grandmother that he's never met. He heads to China for a quick sale, and to pocket the cash. However, this ends up being a journey into his first his Chinese roots, and ultimately into himself. After meeting a Chinese woman, Micki (Kelly Hu), Liam decides that he wants to move to Shanghai and inhabit the house left to him. As the rest of the story progresses, Liam experiences several setbacks, but ultimately exhibits substantial personal growth as he realizes that love is more important than money. There is also the theme of culture and tradition as he finds himself caught between the land of his birth, and the land of his people.
Aside from the well done plot, and frequent sarcastic one liners that kept my attention throughout, this film also makes it on its strong use of the city of Shanghai. I know someone that bought an apartment there a few years ago, and he described it as a vibrant city with phenomenal growth. From what is seen in Shanghai Kiss, it looks like a cross between the Vegas Strip, and Times Square, with a cosmopolitan Asian flair. All I can say is that too often our network TV doesn't show us what is going on in China, and I was quite engaged to see what a happening city Shanghai is these days.
In conclusion, Shanghai Kiss is a sleeper of a hit. While it hits all the requisite high notes for a romantic comedy, it shows that a film of this genre can be anything but ordinary. It is well worth seeking out on DVD.
Overall Grade: A-
Reviewed by Jonas