June 14, 2018 China Salesman (Movie Review)
Communication is extremely important. Those who control the communications control the messages sent out to the population. They can pick and choose who has access and to what knowledge. It is especially important to a country that is trying to rebuild after a war. Those in charge must be trustworthy otherwise the country will fall back into dark times. Chinese Writer and Director Tan Bing offers up China Salesman, a film based on a true story of the bidding war that has been created in a Northern African country. The directorial and writing debut of Tan Bing, China Salesman premieres in select theaters on June 15, 2018. It arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD on June 26th thanks to Cleopatra Entertainment.
Yan Jian (Dong-xue Li: 1911 2011, Xiu chun dao 2014) and Ruan Ling (Li Ai: Qin Mi Di Ren 2011) are young Chinese IT engineers who are sent by their company, DH, to North Africa. They are just one of many companies competing to win the communications control between the north and south. They are the underdogs in the bidding competition. Michael (Clovis Fouin: Chocolat 2016, Inferno d’August Strindberg 2017), the Frenchman from MTM is the clear front runner. This is especially true because Susanna (Janicke Askevold: My Way 2012, The Smurfs 2 2013), who is supervising the competition believes that they should not even have a seat at the table. She refuses to say or learn Yan Jian’s name, instead she only refers to him as the China Salesman, a clear sign of disrespect.
Though Michael and his company are the clear favorites, they are not willing to sit back and win by merit or chance. Their goal, unlike the Chinese, is not to simply restore and run the communications but rather control the mining operations in the country, thus controlling the wealth. He employs Lauder (Steven Seagal: Under Siege 1992, Exit Wounds 2001), the best mercenary in Africa to help take down the competition. Money is the only language that Lauder seems to understand. He also uses Kabbah (Mike Tyson: Rocky Balboa 2006, The Hangover 2009), a native African. Kabbah’s motives are less materialistic. Michael promises him a chance to reclaim his tribe’s lands and restore honor to his people. Michael’s goal is to manipulate Kabbah into starting another civil war.
Yan Jian is still doing his best to impress Susanna and convince her that they are a true contender. In the process, Yan Jian earns the respect and friendship of one of the most respected local tribal leaders, Sheik Asaid (Eriq Ebouaney: Kingdom of Heaven 2005, 3 Days to Kill 2014). News suddenly hits that the president of the country was shot down. The north and south are about to come at odds again. Both are blaming the other for the supposed assassination. No one knows for sure though, because Kabbah and his army are systematically shutting down the communication towers. Chaos ensues in the streets as the people are unsure if war is about to break out again.
Michael’s efforts seem to be working according to plan. Yan Jian’s own company is quickly losing all faith in him. It is only his own pride in his country and knowledge of what he can do that keeps him going when no one else believes in him. He assures Susanna that he can fix the communications and stop the war from happening. With no other option, the powers in charge agree to let him try, but warn there is a strict deadline that if not met, war will be declared. The pair travel into the uncertain war zones to fix the towers. They are escorted by the president’s personal army and being protected by Sheik Asaid and his people. Yan Jian is the country’s only hope. If he fails, then the country fails again.
Will Yan Jian succeed? Will he be able to restore the communications and stop the new bloody civil war that is about to break out? Can he make China proud? Or will Michael’s plans become reality and the west take over and take everything from the country?
To tackle the elephants in the room. Yes, this is a film with Steven Seagal in it. Yes, it does contain a few of his signature fight scenes. They are fun and over the top amazing just like what has become expected from him. Truly, Seagal’s Lauder is not seen on film that much. His involvement is important though, because it allows the viewer to feel how important fixing the communications is to the entire country. Mike Tyson is also a large question mark in the film. What exactly can he bring to the table? The answer is a lot.
While occasionally his African accent gets muddled, the presence he has on screen is powerful. Tyson’s Kabbah is not really a bad guy, even though he is pushing for another war. His motives are pure. He simply wants to reinstate the greatness that his tribe once held. Every turn in the film, the viewer can clearly see the character change as the new facts are internalized. Tyson is so committed to his character that at times it is easy to forget the man on screen was once the heavyweight champion and not the driven nationalistic African man he embodies. Both Seagal’s Lauder and Tyson’s Kabbah have moments of pure clarity that changes the core of the character. Both succeed in being disliked as well as adored by the viewer. The fact that one of the fight scenes is Seagal versus Tyson hand to hand combat is a glorious bonus.
Dong-xue Li’s Yan Jian is the true star of the film. He is quiet and unassuming, but clearly extremely loyal and determined. Li’s Jian reflects most people. He knows that he is capable even when no one else around him believes so. He stays determined to prove to everyone that he can make amazing things happen, all he needs is a chance. The way Li plays his character is never arrogant, even when he is the only one who can see the bigger picture. Never once does he give up or fall victim to his own frustrations. He is what most aspire to be. Unlike some of the other characters he does not need to transform into something better, because who he already is, is exactly who he needs to be.
A lot of action happens in this film, but it is not a typical one. The viewer will never get bored from trying to piece together who is working with who and waiting for another startling move from the players. No scene is wasted, and the action did not exist just to be there. The action exists to help propel the characters to be and do what they need to do to make the country better. There is death, guns, fights, and explosions but all for a purpose. The fact that they are entertaining just aids in fully immersing the viewer into the action.
China Salesman is an entertaining Action film that stands out above most in the genre. The growth of several of the characters radiates off screen. Casting and script are both expertly done. If a viewer is seeking an Action film that has action just for the sake of explosions, this is not the film to choose. An Action film with heart, CrypticRock gives China Salesman 4 out of 5 stars.