Movie Review: Shanghai Kiss

by Guest · 27 comments

As a little girl, I often listened to my classmates discuss their music and movie crushes and the plans to one day marry them in huge weddings with dozens of photographers and celebrities present. First it was Jonathan Taylor Thomas, then it was the Backstreet Boys, then it was Leonardo DiCaprio. I always felt different and left out. For some reason (perhaps because most of my male classmates and my first crush were Chinese.  I’m still longing for an AMWF romance here!) I just never found myself desirous of the same people that my classmates drooled over, as I just wanted an AMWF romanceI thought white guys looked strange. Aside from Mulan’s ever-delicious Shang, I never really found any male characters who piqued my interest.

When a friend told me about Shanghai Kiss and the AMWF relationship in it, I was skeptical at first. I’d seen Hiroshima Mon Amour and Anna and the King, but neither one was terribly modern and I couldn’t relate to them. I hadn’t yet seen an AMWF relationship that felt believable to me, one that I could have seen myself in. But then as I started watching Shanghai Kiss I was a bit more hopeful. Ken Leung was good-looking and I recognized Hayden Panettiere from her spitfire Remember the Titans days. Ken Leung I did not quite so readily recognize until I watched Rush Hour the next day; he plays the part of an evil henchman and has had minor successes since then (Law and Order, Lost, Saw).

Panettiere and Leung were phenomenal choices for the characters of Liam Liu and Adelaide Bourbon. They worked very well together right from the start and even their dialogue didn’t seem forced, which is often a problem for movies billed as romantic comedies. Leung’s Liam Liu comes across as awkward and unsure of himself, whereas Panettiere’s Adelaide is almost nauseatingly bubbly. Two completely opposite character types, and yet I found myself wanting to see them succeed as a couple. I thought that I was going to get to watch the development of a believable AMWF relationship that would finally put away my girlhood belief that I was strange for having fallen madly in love with a Chinese boy when I was eight.

That is… Until it became clear that Adelaide was only sixteen and Liam was in his late twenties. That’s right, this “romantic comedy” is not made with the typical recipe of two thirty-somethings realizing their differences and coming together in an amusing fashion. In fact, after the initial scenes I was left wondering how Shanghai Kiss could have been billed as a romantic comedy at all. It looked to me like Adelaide was seriously crushing on the cool, older guy and he was just humoring her because she made for interesting company. The age difference was a recurring joke throughout the movie, references to potential jail time included.

It quickly became apparent that Shanghai Kiss was less about Liam and Adelaide’s questionable friendship and more about Liam’s development as a man. Liam was forced to leave behind the bubbly and overattached Adelaide for a trip to Shanghai. By this point in the movie it had become apparent that Liam was trying to distance himself from his heritage as much as humanly possible, so it came as no surprise to me that he left for Shanghai only for the potential monetary benefit and not because he actually wanted anything to do with his family.

It’s common knowledge that not every first-generation American connects well with his or her culture and upbringing, and I cannot personally really fault someone for not growing up fobby like his parents. Liam is so far from anything Shanghainese that I would have believed you if you told me he was adopted by white people as a child. That being said, when it came time for Liam’s Shanghai trip I had gone from loving his character and wanting to see him succeed to really despising him and telling myself that I wasn’t surprised he was so unsuccessful in life. I thought that he was lazy, incompetent, inconsiderate, the epitome of stereotypical American behavior when confronted with unfamiliar and foreign situations.

Shanghai Kiss - Direct to DVD, but Hayden Panderette is slammin' hot, AND there's an AMWF Romance!

But his initially stereotypical American-type behavior forms the basis for the beauty of his character’s development. I don’t want to delve into too many details and ruin the movie, but Liam’s time in Shanghai transforms him from the typical, rude American tourist that I want to hate into a character that I am again rooting for. He makes a few completely selfless decisions that will entirely change people’s lives, decisions that I’m not sure I could have made myself if I were in that situation. The rude American stereotype probably has a very good reason for existing, but it’s refreshing to see that turnaround.

Adelaide does eventually find her way back into the story and back into Liam’s life, but not in the way that I would have hoped. Despite their age difference, I had hoped to see more development in the Liam/Adelaide relationship than I was given. I’m left with more questions than answers. Liam finally realizes the error of his ways and wants to help other people realize their dreams, but what about his own? After everything is said and done, who is Adelaide and what does she mean to him? It’s refreshing to see a movie where it is the white character who is the accessory to the Asian star and not the other way around, but I want to see Liam and Adelaide develop into something substantial. The moviegoer is left seeing the beginnings of what may or may not develop into a friendship, a relationship, or who knows what else.

I have to give Shanghai Kiss four out of five joss sticks simply because of that. I love that it’s the Asian man who is finally the star. I love that he actually shows development of character and doesn’t remain as some shallow, stereotypical bit part. I love that he is shown as some average man who isn’t restricted to Asian women. I especially love that I am able to watch an Asian male character in a modern setting who I could reasonably become interested in if I were to see him in the streets of my native Atlanta… but I want to see more than I am given. I feel like the movie ended far too soon for me to get what I wanted out of the story.

I highly recommend the movie as it’s a rare piece of genuinely positive character development, but be prepared to feel like things have been left short.

  • JasonMixedMartialArtist

    Much better AM/WF movies like ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ or ‘Rapid Fire’ or ‘The One’ or even ‘The Walking Dead’ with Glen — the Asian male in Shanghai Kiss is desicable (beta male, cries after one night stands, selfish,horrible social skills)
    &
    creates bad stereotypes.

    He is actually conned in China (see the ‘deleted scenes’ & extended/alternate endings to show his ‘selfless’ act is actually a bad decision because the girl he gives the house to is actually a con artist working with the fake abusive boyfriend) –he is the opposite of a confident, sociable alpha male & the opposite of what JT teaches too

    • Andy

      @JasonMixedMartialArtist

      I didn’t see that at all. The asian woman, Micki Yang (Kelly Hu) confesses to Liam about her background growing up in China. She had much more hardships compared to an average American and the reason she was with a con artist was to feed her family. There’s nothing wrong with when Liam gave the house to her because of her extended family. Also, Liam (Ken Leung) is a badass character for an east asian man. He’s what mainstream filmmakers should be portraying about asian men instead of the usual one dimensional asian villain, or wimpy/goofy asian man, or has to be a martial arts or computer expert etc etc.

  • JasonMixedMartialArtist

    The crying in bed after a one night stand in front of the girl who’s name he can’t even remember or care about is probably one of the worst signs of him being a pathetic beta

    • Andy

      @JasonMixedMartialArtist

      Crying in bed just shows that he’s sensitive, and most women find sensitive men attractive…especially if you look like a bodybuilder type of guy.

  • JasonMixedMartialArtist

    Everyone has their own opinion but watching this movie will actually make most people despise the Asian male in the movie & the ending in the movie does not change him into an attactive male either
    –he goes from despicable to half-way decent human being who you wouldn’t even want to be friends with nor someone you would want a sister or female friend to date

    –not a great date movie nor something you want to show to others .. get or download the ‘Vanishing Son’ TV mini-series instead w/ Russelll Wong which is 10x better than this horrible movie

  • Brandon

    I still do not understand why any guy or girl would take movies, media etc as cues to what the world out there is like.

    Until y’all stop seeing yourself as ‘asian’ and the ‘white’ girl you like as ‘white’. You are all doomed for unrealistic unsuccessful relationships.

    Alpha. Beta. Theta. Omega. Who gives a F?

    You are going to be with a girl that is suitable for who you are. If you’re a socially retarded geeking gamer. Guess what, you’re not going to get a super model girl who truly enjoys sucking your dick and fucking your brains out. Count of her being mousy, chubby and just as awkward as you are.

    If y’all need reinforcement from the media as a confirmation of your worth. Good luck with your life. In the mean time, guys like me who are ethnically colorblind will be to busy being ourselves and scooping up all the gorgeous girls.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alice.v.pua Alice Zindagi Pua

      False; I enjoy geeky gamers very much, given that I own every video game console to date. I also enjoy fucking their brains out. That’s also actually me in the picture. Don’t hate just because you can’t have both.

      • Brandon

        Everybody’s opinion of what a hot girl is and, not trying to be rude, but you are not hot to me. I would not give you a second look or even acknowledge your existence.

        I have never approached or picked up a girl as it is girls tries to get my attention.

        I don’t hate because I don’t care. My girl is much much much hotter than you. And she is more of a video game buff than I am. So, I do have both and more.

        Why I am on here and a always seeming like a dick is because I have geeky loser friends that are exactly the same as the geeky losers on this website. What I see and read is: JT promotes extreme insecurity and justified racism. Loser geeks believe all this because now they feel it is society and not them.

        Well, the truth of the matter is that it has nothing to do with being an Asian guy in a western world. It has everything to do with being a loser while wanting to be a winner in a competive world.

        • Andy

          @ca6999d8b28fc66d82a1333eb5cb77a1:disqus

          You’re so fucking irritating. Everything you said is all talk and you never back up with anything. Do you have any web links of yourself to back up your argument? I thought so, YOU’RE the one that’s being insecure by being someone that’s not, how would anyone know you’re telling the truth about yourself??

        • Andy

          @ca6999d8b28fc66d82a1333eb5cb77a1:disqus

          Another thing that’s irritatingly annoying about you is that you sound like the kind of asshole that complains about everything and you have to have your way. Why not just let it go? I see my white friends act desperate and tries to be super nice by asking women out all the time, but I’m not going to put them down or make fun of them, they are happy because sometimes they do get laid even though it takes a ton of tries. The only time I said something to my friends is when they get too drunk and made women uncomfortable, that’s when I get really pissed, and they do listen to me, but most of the time, they know not to act like a jack ass of themselves. As long as you’re happy with yourself is what really matters. You Brandon (if that’s even your real name) seems like the jealous type and has to preach with your bullying pride acting like you’re all this hot shit without showing any proof…you are a sad little dude. You should really look at yourself in the mirror. Do you really feel happy with yourself by bullying someone without even knowing them first? How do you know people who come to this site is what you think they are? Everyone’s different.

        • George

          @ca6999d8b28fc66d82a1333eb5cb77a1:disqus

          You shouldn’t offending women that like asian men, what’s wrong with you dude???

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003307697956 Kieran Tsao

          Well, the truth of the matter is that it has nothing to do with being an Asian guy in a western world. It has everything to do with being a loser while wanting to be a winner in a competive world.

          =========

          it is when the white male stereotyping of asians is done so because they are asian, not because they are losers…

          indeed, it has gotten so bad that many whites equate asian (men) with losers automatically

      • T.K.

        Have you ever seen “Ramen Girl”? It actually has a more subtle take on the AM/WW with the late Brittany Murphy. It’s not a great movie, but it was surprisingly decent on a very slow night.

    • Andy

      @ca6999d8b28fc66d82a1333eb5cb77a1:disqus
      What are you scared of? Did you even watch the movie?? This is an Inde film, not many people watch these compared to mainstream ones. And also, if you watch the god damn movie, it’s not about identifying oneself as a loser or about just being “asian.” On the contrary, the main character Liam (Ken Leung) is anything BUT a loser. His best friend Joe (Joel David Moore) comes across as more of a loser in the film. And so what if this film has “Asian” and “American” identity crisis theme. The story is loosely based on real life, dealing with societal discrimination that just happens to be about Liam’s ethnicity being asian and NOT just because of self pity (again it’s loosely based on real life for christ’s sakes!). In fact, there are some scenes in the film when he is in Shanghai, Liam also makes lighthearted fun of himself for being asian and a foreigner in the film particularly the language.

      • Andy

        And when I say Liam’s ethnicity being asian (since the story is loosely based on real life), because of circumstance, I’m saying there are many minorities who can identify themselves with Liam. The acting jobs in the entertainment industry here in the U.S. for minorities especially asians is very limited. Sometimes even if the story has an asian story, they’re often time given to an non asian. Bruce Lee struggled with this, Jackie Chan, etc etc. I know because my sister who is asian is very talented but she has very limited roles here in the U.S. Also, I notice non asian actors like Christian Bale with the controversial “Flowers of War” movie is considered bankable overseas, same with many of the top actors in Hollywood like Tom Cruise would be bankable even in Asia. The only asian actor from overseas that’s considered bankable here in the U.S. is Jackie Chan, but he’s retiring and I doubt he would have any or very little control over the casting of his films even if he directs or produces films for the U.S.

        • Wynn Horton

          well, I am all for the hapa Daniel Henney beinght next pretty male face on the big screen.

    • Andy

      @Brandon

      I also want to add Brandon, if you keep saying you are all this hot shit with women, (and maybe you’re telling the truth and maybe not)…looks will fade overtime, but greatness will not. You will get a midlife crisis and get old like everyone else, same with your hot girl friend, she will get old and won’t be so hot anymore. And if you look at history, historical figures who were great didn’t achieve their success by disrespecting and bullying. The ones that did bully, have lost every time, and just repeating, a pointless cycle like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Pol Pot, Aidid, Milosevic just to name a few all thought they were unstoppable and great, hot shit, but in fact they were arrogant fools that even their own people wanted to kill them…power without perception is useless and has no true value.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003307697956 Kieran Tsao

      Er, your implication is that “mousy chubby awkward girls” can’t enjoy “sucking your dick” and “fucking your brains out” (amongst other things). I’ve dated a couple of mousy (not quite chubby) girls, and also a “supermodel” looks girl…. the mousy girls were far better, way way better at sex,

      not that i judge women based on how eager they are to “suck your dick”

  • Gabby

    Thanks for the review; it sounds like this movie is better than it looks at first glance, so I might have to try it out. I’m planning to watch a few movies with a friend I work with at DISH next weekend, so maybe I’ll rent Shanghai Kiss for us to watch as well. It’s available from DISH’s Blockbuster@Home service, which has over 100,000 DVDs to choose form, so it’s always easy for me to find the movie I’m looking for. Hopefully my friend and I enjoy it as much as you did.

  • BoThePro

    This was a decent movie. The only thing I didn’t like is that he chose the white girl over Kelly Hu. No way Bro, Kelly Hu is sexy as hell, fine as wine and smarter than Sherlock. I don’t know why Asian men fall for some white girls, it beyond my comprehension. But I never pass up the sweet N sour for the plain white rice. I like to dip my egg roll in Sweet N Sour.

    • lawyered

      u would too if the shanghai girl was the gf of some mob boss and there’s barely a thing you could relate to her. i mean hell the whole movie he couldn’t even order food for himself! plus damn hayden pulled my strings. besides we got tons of movies where the asian dude goes for the asian girl. how many movies actually have asian guys with the white girl? i mean even if you get it passed the censors all the good stuff will go collateral damage like the Aaliyah Jet Li kiss scene in Romeo must Die.

  • lawyered

    THANK YOU! this review is perfect! i just watched this movie today and i agree totally! but i get it too cuz you really can’t get too much passed the censors here in america. they see some asian guy about to pull a bruce lee and get the white chick or you know have anything to do with non-asian girls nevermind leading the movie and it’ll get pulled. if it doesn’t get pulled then it’ll be direct to DVD. (like this movie) if it doesn’t turn direct to DVD it’ll get all the good scenes ripped out. if not that and it really gets going it’ll be flamed to hell. (like Jet Li’s the one) so they kinda had to go with the really old asian guy who doesn’t wanna be a pedo so he has to be a will they won’t they with his white costar. (and still have the movie go direct to DVD probably cuz of that one nude scene)

    but yeah totally about his character. I’m Chinese American too hell shanghainese even and i just gotta say this dude is not Chinese at all. hell if they swapped him for a white actor i wouldn’t know the difference (except the chinese stereotype jokes wouldn’t make sense.) He’s just soooo not chinese. lol

    still you gotta love how he’s not just the main character hes the cool and played up main character. like when you have a jackie chan movie or a jet li movie the elephant in the room is their friggin accents. it just takes so much away even though it really isn’t meant to. you hear it and you KNOW this guy’s Chinese. end of. Even an old Bruce Lee movie (the guys from cali come on) he’s got this weird accent and the high pitched wataaa sounds. but here you got this normal average Chinese American no accent no stereotype personality hell he’s a college dropout who decides to be an actor! so they really went far to not make him follow any stereotype. then they give him the nerdy pal who kinda takes up the usual asian character role. he’s awkward and can’t pick up chicks. and its up to Ken Leung to step in. i mean he hooks up with the dumb blonde at the bar for a one nighter and when his pal gets stood up from his match.com sweetie he pushes him to chat up the chick at the diner. I mean he doesn’t get the girl there either but like usual you don’t see a movie with some white guy needing his asian buddy’s help to even get the balls to talk to a girl and that same asian guy being a stud. its always the other way around.

    anyway I kinda liked Hayden’s character. yes she’s also totaly not a real american girl. she’s just way too bubbly yes totally but it made her so cute and lovable. plus i don’t think any other girl woulda gotten Liam to wake up. He was in so deep being all depressed it had to be Hayden’s bubbly so not a real high school girl character to get him out.

  • Jeff

    Hey, I’m in Atlanta :-)

    • Wynn Horton

      hey, Jeff. I’m an hour outside of Atlanta, in the boon-docks !

      • Jeff

        Just sent you a friend request on Facebook, Wynn. :-)

  • Wynn Horton

    you people must watch L’Avante, the French movie about a white girl and her rich passionate Chinese older man. it takes place in Vietnam. DON’T watch it with friends or family…too hot for that. I watched this movie over 20 yrs ago and LOVE it. Try not to be judgemental about the age difference. if I was in her shoes, I might have done what she did. I was technically 17 when I met my Japanese boyfriend and he was 1o yrs or more older. watch it !!!

    • Jeff

      What do you mean by “you people”? Only kidding ;-)