Daniel Hsia is a filmmaker enjoying the success of his first feature film, Shanghai Calling. The film follows the journey of a Chinese-American hotshot lawyer moving to Shanghai.
Shanghai Calling opened the 2012 Asian American International Film Fest (AAIFF) in New York last week. AAIFF is in its 35th year and is the longest-running festival showcasing independent Asian and Asian American cinema in the U.S. Schema reviewed Shanghai Calling as part of our coverage of AAIFF 2012.
Sadiya Ansari spoke with Daniel by phone while he was at home in Los Angeles in anticipation of the AAIFF film screening on July 25. Check out the first part of the interview to get the full scoop.
The film tackles complex identity issues in a very nuanced way. Was that a conscious effort by you while writing?
I wanted to do a couple of things. First of all, I wanted this film to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. That’s another reason I wanted to make this a comedy.
People are definitely more inclined to see something entertaining than a message movie. I wanted this to appeal to as many people as possible, and I didn’t want to make this a message movie. I wanted to make something very entertaining.
Sure enough, the response that we have been getting at festivals from audiences has been really good.
People see the trailer and hear a bit about the movie and think that it’s going to be funny, so they come and they laugh. When the movie is over, some have really interesting questions.
“Is that what’s really happening in China right now? Are there really that many Americans there?”
There is meaning there but it’s not meant to be in your face — “it’s so hard to be this skin colour in this place,” or something. No, these are regular peoples’ lives.
As much as I do have an appreciation for Asian American film — I got my start at Asian American film festivals with the short films I was doing — I feel like we as a community, Asian American filmmakers, sometimes limit ourselves too much with what we create. We don’t have to tell the same stories over and over again of, “It’s really hard to be a person of colour,” because that’s not what I think about everyday. I don’t wake up every morning and think about it. I wake up every morning and have regular people problems. One of the ways we have to break out of being seen as different is to show that we are not that different.
What was your favourite part of the filmmaking process?
People think that a writer’s favourite thing to do is write. But in fact, it’s not. Writing is a pain in the ass. But you have to do it.
Once you figure out what you are doing on a project and how to make it work, it becomes somewhat enjoyable. You start discovering things along the way. The process of planning and sitting there banging your head on a desk — that’s not fun.
What I discovered is that I really love being in production. It’s also incredibly difficult. Everyday there are problems that come up. You never know whether you are going to be able to do what you thought you were going to be able to do. But it’s exhilarating. There are 100 people around you trying to achieve the same goal.
If you hire the right people and have a good attitude as a director, you can have a really good time. Luckily on this movie, we planned really well, we hired great people, we had a good time, and we are really proud of the product at the end.
This is part two of a three-part interview — stay tuned next week for part three!
Schema will be covering the Asian American International Film Festival for the first time. Check back often for other reviews, interviews, and more!
Sadiya Ansari is a Pakistani-born, Canadian-raised UBC journalism student who loves politics–near and far. You can follow her @SadiyaAnsari.