China Salesman — the self-indulgent tale of “a Chinese engineer who explores faraway markets in Africa and wins contracts with remarkable courage and wisdom” — is hitting mainland Chinese theaters.
Well, it might be more accurate to say “hitting mainland Chinese theaters again“. The 20 million USD production grossed just over 1.4 million USD when it was released domestically in June of 2017, with the box office dropping 98% during its second week in theaters. And despite hammy features by Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal, an attempt at a US release one year later was equally disastrous. It’s almost as though we’re talking about a movie centered on the plight of a guy trying to sell telecommunications contracts.
After its original run, China Salesman yielded understandably weak ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (13%) and Metacritic (14%), with a year-end box office revenue of just 1.5 million USD to match. Though we give it credit for trying to highlight the ever-important ties between China and Africa (which is very in right now. And I do mean, very in), China Salesman‘s take on China-Africa adventure is light on adventure and heavy on tech sales.
The film claims to be “based on true stories” of Chinese telecommunications companies’ working in overseas markets. Somehow, we imagine that those true stories probably didn’t feature fisticuffs between aging action stars. The film itself is jam packed with multiple plots from firefights, to romance, to business wars, landing it in the Drama/Action/War joint category on reviews community Douban.
The film’s ratings on Douban are somewhat mysterious — an overall rating of 3.9 stars out of 5, even though 48.5% of users gave it just one star. We might mention that the ratings of Chinese patriotic films on Douban have reportedly been artificially boosted in the past, after the government became upset with the user community for their consistently poor reviews of domestic films. Douban’s official synopsis calls the piece a “touching story of Chinese spirit”, “China’s responsibility”, and “China’s wisdom”.
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Still, Douban’s users make no effort to hide their scorn:
“This film shows that there’s no bottom point for China’s garbage movies!” writes user Bird Mountain Lee. “If I could give this a negative score I would! Mike Tyson, are you really so broke that you’d do a movie this bad?”
The film stars Chinese actors Li Dongxue and Li Ai, but most of the promotional visuals highlight Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal, both of whom spend very little time onscreen in the movie itself. In the actual plot, Li plays a telecom IT engineer sent to North Africa to compete on behalf of his company and win the grand prize: 3G coverage on the continent. We can say that, at one point, Seagal (a triple threat: bar owner/mercenary/arms dealer), gets into a fist fight with Tyson (who attempts the accent of a former African war general). This all against the backdrop of a civil war set off by a meddlesome French spy.
The movie is nearly two hours long and you can watch it on Youtube, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Vudu and Netflix. If you want to. Which you probably don’t.
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