chinaSMACK and the Making of Shanghai Calling

Hi, I’m Daniel Hsia, the writer and director of Shanghai Calling, a new romantic comedy about American expats living in modern-day China.

Despite all of the research that went into Shanghai Calling, I was constantly looking for more details about China life to make the script feel more contemporary. But the English-language books and news sites I was reading, they just didn’t feel plugged-in enough or very authentic. I also tried searching Chinese blogs but I’m pretty bad at reading Chinese so I was kinda at a loss. Then a friend of mine referred me to What an amazing website, chinaSMACK covers all of the news topics, videos, and internet memes

that are trending in China right now, and tells you what the average Chinese citizen is saying about these things. And best of all, chinaSMACK does all of this in English and in a way that’s easy for outsiders to understand.

chinaSMACK came in handy countless time when I was writing Shanghai Calling, but the biggest help I got from the site was when I was rewriting a character who is a Chinese journalist. I needed him to have a legendary reputation but I also wanted his name to be funny in both English and Chinese. By searching the chinaSMACK Glossary, I actually managed to find a Chinese slang term gei li, which is a relatively new term in China meaning

“awesome”, so I decided to name this character Wang Geili (王给力) in Chinese which translates to “Awesome Wang” in English.
Audiences in China and the U.S. responded really well to this name. They think its really funny and because of it, he’s one of the most memorable characters in the movie.

If you’re trying to get your finger on the pulse of the average Chinese citizen but you can’t read Chinese, then chinaSMACK is the best resource on the internet. So bookmark it now and go to the movie theater to watch Shanghai Calling when it opens in China on August 10th.

Daniel Hsia

Synopsis About the FilmWin VIP Tickets to the World Theatrical Premiere!


Sam Chao (Daniel Henney), an up-and-coming Manhattan attorney angling for partnership, is dispatched by his bosses to Shanghai to open the firm’s new satellite office there. If Sam completes the three-month assignment, they will give him the promotion he’s been dreaming about.

But Sam may not be suited for life in China. His first day in Shanghai, he humiliates Amanda (Eliza Coupe), the lovely relocation specialist hired to smooth his way into the expat community, browbeats Fang Fang (Zhu Zhu), his hyper-capable office assistant, and insults everyone he meets with his refusal to adapt to local customs.

When his insistence on doing things his way costs an important client a potential billion-dollar deal, Sam must rely on the very people he has alienated to fix his blunders and save his job. As he painfully learns to temper his take-no-prisoners style, Sam slowly discovers a new way of looking at the world—and at Amanda.

About the Film

An ambitious young American attorney discovers that his hard-charging approach to corporate law is no match for the surprises of modern China in Shanghai Calling, an intelligent, charming, cross-cultural romantic comedy. One of the first of a new wave of Sino-American co-productions, Shanghai Calling features an outstanding international cast and a timely story, all set against the gorgeous backdrop of modern Shanghai, a city whose blend of old and new, and East and West, has made it a symbol of contemporary globalization.

Daniel Henney as Sam in Shanghai Calling, calculating time zones.

The multicultural mix-ups and misunderstandings of Shanghai Calling were inspired by the real-life stories writer and director Daniel Hsia heard from a friend living the expatriate life in Beijing. “Every time I ran into him at a classmate’s wedding or college reunion, he told me hilarious stories about what it’s like to be an immigrant from America,” says Hsia. “It’s not an experience a lot of Americans are familiar with. We’re used to people visiting the U.S. But now that China is becoming a global powerhouse, all the big companies are opening offices there. We’re no longer the center of the universe. For many Americans just out of college, their first job is in China. That’s where the inspiration came from.”

Based on his experiences writing for American television, the Bay Area native

was sure that there was a compelling story with a sprawling cast of characters to be found in China. “I decided to go to Beijing and Shanghai for a couple of months to do some research,” he says. “Shanghai today is a very dynamic and exciting setting, so I interviewed everyone I could meet — Americans, Chinese, Europeans — from all walks of life, and the story very quickly came together.”

Hsia crafted a classic fish-out-of-water tale about an American businessman arrogantly poised to take the unsophisticated natives of a far-away city by storm. The twist is that the hero, Sam Chao, is a Chinese-American who looks like he should fit in easily, but Sam has spent his entire life willfully ignorant of his heritage. A comeuppance is, of course, awaiting him in China.

“In shorthand, we like to say it’s about a banana who falls in love with an egg,” says Producer Janet Yang. “A banana is someone who’s yellow on the outside, white on the inside, and the egg is obviously the reverse. I think it strikes a number of chords for people in China and all over the world. We’re experiencing an intense curiosity about China right now. Our protagonist doesn’t know anything about China in the beginning, so he takes Western audiences with him on his journey. And I think it’s fun for Chinese viewers to laugh at somebody like that.

Daniel Henny as Sam in Shanghai Calling on a bicycle.

“So it’s both a cross-cultural comedy and a romance,” Yang continues. “I think it really satisfies on both levels. The motor of the story involves Sam and the trouble that he gets into as a lawyer, but his affection for China is largely influenced by meeting a woman with a very different point of view.”

Eliza Coupe as Amanda in Shanghai Calling.

And while he admits that there may be jokes that don’t translate for every audience, Hsia is confident that American and Chinese audiences will both find plenty to laugh at. “For Americans, a lot of the comedy will come from situations they’ve never seen before. For instance, you walk into a noodle restaurant and sit down at an empty table. From the American perspective, that is your table. All of a sudden, other people start sitting with you and that’s just not something we’re used to.

“It’s fun to watch the look Sam’s face as he is having a private discussion and people keep joining them,” he continues. “He doesn’t understand what’s happening. There’s a lot of fun to be had from the Chinese perspective to see this American- born Chinese, who arrives in Shanghai thinking he’s top dog, and is instead a fish out of water. Every encounter he has with a Chinese local ends in a disastrous—and very comedic—way. When somebody who is so put together and so arrogant is very slowly brought to his knees, it reveals the person he really is on the inside.”

Shanghai Calling 纽约客@上海 In China Theaters August 10th

Expat Stories Contest

Win a Pair of VIP Tickets to Attend the World Theatrical Premiere of Shanghai Calling in Shanghai!

For chinaSMACK fans in Shanghai, the filmmakers of Shanghai Calling are giving away three (3) pairs of VIP tickets to attend the black tie world theatrical premiere of Shanghai Calling at Xintiandi this coming Tuesday, August 7th @ 7pm, presented by The Henley Group and The Langham Xintiandi Shanghai. Walk the red carpet and see the filmmakers and stars including director Daniel Hsia, actor Daniel Henney, and actress Zhu Zhu!

How to Enter:

Just take a photograph of yourself telling us a funny, touching, or interesting story or experience you’ve had as an expat in China in one written sentence, and submit it with the form to the right by midnight August 5th. The three best entries will win the tickets! One for you and one for your Sam or Amanda!

Important Notes:

  • You must appear in your photo.
  • Your one-sentence story must be in your photo, whether written on a piece of paper, a small white board/chalk board, or even an iPad, as long as it is held in your hands or on your body and the text is clearly legible.
  • None of the above may be edited into your photograph through photo manipulation.
  • Multiple entries allowed but only one prize per winner. Entries will be posted on chinaSMACK after contest ends.
  • Photo Limitations: Between 900×600 and 1800×1200 pixels in dimensions, .jpg format only, and under 2MB file size.
  • Eligibility: Entrants must be currently in Shanghai, China and available to attend the premiere at the aforementioned date and time in suitable attire.
  • Contest Deadline: Sunday 5th August @ 23:59 China Standard Time.
  • Winners Announced: Winners will be contacted directly and announced on this page on Monday August 6th.

Entry Form:

All fields are required.

Contest is Closed! Thanks for Participating!
See the Winners Here »


Written by chinaSMACK

Welcome to chinaSMACK. This is an archive of announcement posts and other posts without a specific author.


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