Saturday, July 21, 2018

China Salesman aka Zhong guo tui xiao yuan (2017)

China salesman poster

Tagline:

Fighting the war to connect the nation.

Movie Review:

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I had heard things about this film upfront. I’m not naive when it comes to this kind of film anymore. I know when I see Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson on the cover together, that if - and that’s a big if - the two get to brawl together, it will be for two minutes and then we will see the two stars sitting in chairs on and off throughout the film whilst Third Billing But Actually Main Star Guy takes 90% of the screen time. I went into the film expecting this. What did I get? Read on.

Yan Jian (Dong-xue Li, Brotherhood of Blades), a young Chinese IT engineer in North Africa and helping his company to win a bid for installing a new mobile phone network in the recently war-torn nation. The winning bid will own the rights to control the communication between the south and the north of the continent. French spy Michael (Cloivs Foulin) works for a rival phone company but he also hired the best mercenary in Africa, Lauder (Steven Seagal) and former General Kabbah (Mike Tyson) to help him win. Yan has discovered their conspiracy, and along with his invention that will ensure faster 3G connectivity for all, the full force and forces of the rival company are after him. The plot is utterly ridiculous, but I can’t bring myself to completely blame the writers as apparently this is based on a true story. Rival phone companies actually having a war in Africa over 3G versus CDMA technology is a thing that apparently happened. And China was the one to save the day. There is literal flag waving in the movie.

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Let’s get the important thing out of the way first. Yes, Seagal and Tyson fight. And.. it’s pretty damn good, at least when taken at face value. It takes less than ten minutes of the runtime for it to happen and less than fifteen for it to end, but it is exactly the kind of fight I’d want to see between these two. Tyson heavy on the punches, Seagal heavy on the avoidance tactics and his patented slap-fu. The reason for the fight though? Tyson didn’t want to drink whiskey because of religious reasons, so Seagal served him up a gallon of piss. Yup. Actual piss. So Tyson beats the living shit out of Seagal’s henchmen, then the room, and then Seagal (I was impressed with that knockout, as ol' Steve usually doesn’t allow his characters to lose). Forget the fact that as we learn later in the film, these two are on the same side. Tyson rounds out the scene with the line; “Motherfucker, YOU drink piss!”. They could have run the credits at this point and made the best short action film in years. But alas, we have another 105 minutes to go.

The bulk of the film is political drama between Yan and his company, he rival phone company represented by the deranged Michael, and supposed neutral adjudicator Susanna (Janicke Askevold) who ends up helping Yan at the same time as saying his company is shit. Michael as a vile frenchman is equally awful as it is hilarious, straight out of James Bond Evil Bad-guy world. Then we are filled up with boardroom meetings, sabotage of technical equipment, then HOLY SHIT CIVIL WAR, FUCKEN TANKS, BATTLE HORSES then Mike Tyson spying through telescope, Seagal slapping his secretary’s arse, drive to phone tower to install transmitter HOLY SHIT THE LOCALS ARE KILLING A BABY GIRL RESCUE HER actually it was a circumcision and you’ve offended their faith and now IT guy has been strung up by his feet WE’RE TRAPPED IN A SANDSTORM... This is the strangest movie about telecommunications ever made.

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The best performance in the film is from Dong-xue Li who tries his best with the material he’s given. He can at least act, with the exception of his fall from the radio tower which should take three seconds but takes twenty and is hilariously overdone. As for Seagal and Tyson’s remainder of the film (I know that’s why you are here); Tyson gets in on the action but mostly it’s driving a tank. No, it’s not as cool as it sounds. He does shoot missiles at a helicopter which IS cool, but misses. Christ he’s a bad actor, really. Not B-action star bad, just BAD. I’ve seen a less wooden performance from a tree. Seagal does a lot of what he does lots of these days - sitting in chairs. He is absent for the entire second act, but I’m sure he was sitting in a chair then too.

I spent a lot of this film with my mouth wide open just astonished at what I was seeing - not for good reasons mind you. The combination of what seems to be an absolutely huge budget with really quite beautiful sets and scenery, likely financed directly by the Chinese Government, contrasted with the quality of script and the bulk of the acting. They were so far apart I just couldn’t believe it. You know in a B-action movie the acting can be ropey and you accept it, but this is that kind of acting you get when both "non-English as a first language” speakers combine with "English as a first language but we better dumb it down for the Chinese audience” speakers butt heads. Top that off with the already suspect acting ability of Tyson and.. this is painful to watch. Scenes change gears so abruptly it feels like something was left on the cutting room floor. One moment Yan Jian is being arrested for drinking alcohol he thought was goats milk (yes, truly) and literally three seconds later Tyson ambushes the building and blows it half up, along with the people inside. Okay? Did that actually happen in this “true story”?

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So, Scott Adkins (billed as Scotty Adkins) has executive producer credits on this mess? What the hell was he doing? I love the guy’s work (seriously, everybody go see Savage Dog right now) but he shouldn’t have put his name to this propaganda film. Maybe he just produced the epic fight between our poster hogs? I’ll let myself believe that.

Did I hate this movie then? No. It’s too ridiculous to hate and the opening fight is boss. If they shaved 30 minutes off it (this thing drags through 110 minutes), it could have been loads better. As it is, it’s more often than not unintentionally hilarious what with the bonkers scenes and remedial English. In the final act, Mike Tyson gives a heartfelt monologue complete with tears, but he’s doing that whilst holding detonators in his hand. And when he said “No more war, we must bring peeth” I completely lost it. For a far better Chinese production mixed with Western actors, check out Wolf Warrior 2.

China Salesman movie was written and directed by Tan Bing and it is his only credit on IMDB. I wouldn’t be surprised if it remained that way.

Addendum: it’s worth noting that about a quarter of the film’s runtime is in Mandarin with English subtitles.

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Highlight:

As you can probably guess, the best and most traditional part of the film is the Seagal vs Tyson fight at the ten minute mark. It’s pretty epic actually, with Tyson throwing strong punches, Seagal throwing barrels and Tyson punching through them, half a bar being destroyed.. good times. Shame about the rest of the film.

Trailer:

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