Director Daniel Hsia and producer Janet Yang were motivated to make Shanghai Calling, their first feature film together, by the shared feeling that no matter how much more important relations between the United States and China grew, they always seemed fraught with misunderstanding.
By twisting a classic fish-out-of-water tale, the relative film-industry-newcomer Hsia and the Hollywood veteran Yang were able to ponder some of the cultural hiccups that echo across the Pacific, and have a laugh at them. What does it mean to be both Chinese and American? How does one really do business in China, let alone find love there? What makes moviegoers smile and tell their friends to buy tickets?
By shooting Shanghai Calling in both Mandarin and English, and by deliberately limiting their use of subtitles, Hsia and Yang attempted to perform one of the most difficult feats in filmmaking, nay, in life—cross-cultural comedic communication.
At a time when the size of China’s newfound moviegoing audience speaks volumes to Hollywood, Hsia and Yang sat for a chat with ChinaFile readers to unpack their cinematic experiment.