Shanghai Calling is a cute romantic comedy about a Chinese American man who moves to Shanghai with no ability to speak Mandarin and no understanding of Chinese culture. I watch TV and movies in Mandarin to help me with my listening abilities but this one made me laugh because it made me remember what I was like when I first moved to China about 15 years ago. It also reminded me quite a lot of some of the expats in China I met over the years. The main character,Sam, assumes that he can fix most of his work and personal problems the same way he could back in the States. He even makes the mistake of thinking his assistant is flirting with him when she is just trying to help him learn the culture. He does learn, eventually, that he has to have help and that he needs to learn more about the culture and the language.
I liked this movie because the characters were unexpected but they were more like the people I actually knew when I lived in China. The American woman who is more Chinese than the Chinese American man. The child who only speaks Chinese and refuses to speak English. The warm family and caring boyfriend. I really enjoyed the “Awesome Wang” character. A nice guy with a daughter he loves, who is good at helping expats out when they misunderstand the culture or have a problem with work.
I think we all need an “Awesome Wang” or cultural mentor. I think that even if Sam had been able to speak and read perfect Chinese he still would have had problems because of his cultural misunderstandings. Moving to a new country for work or working with expats can be difficult because we are not coming from the same culture and there are many times when we miscommunicate. Sometimes these can be humorous, we hope, and sometimes they can be shocking and embarrassing.
This can even happen when people study English. I watch a lot of movies and TV to help with my language learning but have learned not to repeat the slang I hear because not every idiom or slang word that is said on TV is appropriate for use in conversation or I might use it the wrong way. I also love the way Sam falls in love with the people, language and culture by living there and making friends. I think the best way to learn a language is by immersing ourselves for a short time or a long time in that language and culture. I love the way the movie shows that sometimes falling in love with living overseas can sneak up on you.
Written by our new China Promotions Manager Christa Smith.