Directors: David Ren and Kern Konwiser
Film buffs will remember the following paraphrased joke from Annie Hall: a guy goes to the doctor to report that his brother thinks he’s a chicken. The doctor asks why the man doesn’t turn him in and his reply is, “I would but I need the eggs.” Woody Allen used this quip in the epilogue of Hall in expressing his feeling that despite the agony and pain, there’s much joy to be had in relationships and we keep on giving love a chance because frankly we need the eggs. The same can be said for the films of Woody Allen which get released once a year and despite the fluctuation in quality over the past decade, one thing is for certain and that is the unrivaled and unquestionable influence he’s had on filmmakers around the globe. Everyone from major directors and celebrated auteurs of today to up and coming independent filmmakers seem to have drawn inspiration from his work and although the resulting movies range in their cinematic success, the man’s life and movies are utilized to strong effect in the unfortunately named debut film from directors David Ren and Kern Konwiser, Shanghai Kiss. Before she became the cheerleader to be saved in order to save the world in TV’s Heroes, teen actress Hayden Panettiere shot the role in Shanghai that later earned her an award for Best Actress in a Feature Film from the 2007 Newport Beach Film Festival. In the film she plays the sixteen year old Adelaide or “Adi” for short—a bubbly, artistically talented, mature yet childish, free-spirited self-proclaimed natural genius who latches onto Liam Liu (Ken Leung), a hapless twenty-eight year old Chinese American out of work actor struggling to get past both Tinsletown and his own self-loathing Asian stereotypes in landing a role. Serving as Liam’s unlikely ally, Adi harbors a major crush on her new friend. Although, in the tradition of those who have escaped from their culture out of anger, Liam must learn to get a better sense of self and his place in the world and accept himself before he is good for anyone, let alone a younger female sidekick whom he prefers to accompany to harmless outings to movies, Laundromats, coffee and car rides so that she doesn’t have to ride the L.A. bus to and from her Beverly Hills high school alone. When he isn’t spending time with Adi, Liam devotes his time to the occasional one-night stand and complaining about his situation to good friend Joel David Moore in Allen styled witty, self-deprecating dialogue. After the grandmother he’s never met dies and leaves him the ancestral home in Shanghai, Liam impulsively goes to China where he falls for the polar-opposite of Adi in Kelly Hu’s Micki, a sophisticated grown woman who makes Liam realize he may want to return to his cultural roots and permanently move to the foreign land with a language he doesn’t speak. Of course, that’s when he must stop running and start facing not only his friends in California but also the father from whom he’s been estranged back in New York to address the reason for his bitterness. Leung makes the most of a difficult role with a character who uses humor to disguise his every emotion, coming off as a callous creep at times and a wounded soul in others in a fully realized portrayal which also earned him a Special Mention for his Breakout Performance from the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival where the film premiered. While it definitely calls to mind Manhattan in the romantic triangle between an age appropriate woman and a young artistically talented girl with a man undergoing a self-identity crisis, not to mention using some direct quotes from Allen and paying homage to numerous films in other scenes (in one deleted example on the DVD there’s a hybrid of two famous speeches from Annie Hall and Manhattan), Shanghai Kiss is still a wonderful little find and deserves a better audience than its direct to DVD fate. Although burdened by a title that doesn’t really apply, the poster of the film which features Panattiere should instantly attract fans of Heroes but don’t let the youth-appeal of the box fool you—it’s a film that plays best to adults (especially the twenty or thirty-something crowd) rather than teenagers thanks to the intellectual script of David Ren.