CHINA SALESMAN Review: Facemelting Action Propaganda

Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson head to China in this utterly insane slice of trash cinema.

People can't stop talking about Gotti – John Travolta's recent bit of ghastly caricature work – and it’s gotten somewhat annoying. Sure, there are things that certainly stick out about E from Entourage's mostly inept programmer, such as the movie's warped worldview regarding the titular NYC mobster, portraying him as some sort of heroic “man of the people” in the Big Apple. But let's be real: had the project not received a $600K investment from MoviePass, it'd currently be rotting away in Redboxes, right next to other forgettable Travolta anti-cinema like Life on the Line. However, that hasn't stopped a legion of goofs from letting the film's aggressive marketing campaign work its muscular goombah magic on them (whether they'll admit to it or not), as some are proclaiming Gotti a new "trash cinema classic", when really, it's for tourists, who are probably tweeting from their living rooms while the picture plays in the background, condescendingly giggling whenever its star flashes another mean mug.

This writer would love for the same knuckleheads glorifying that eye-rolling junk to sit through China Salesman, one of the most baffling pieces of action movie propaganda to ever emerge from mainland China. While the ads for this filmic fiasco sell a full-scale showdown between Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson, the reality is those two has-beens are barely in the film (especially Seagal, who's practically wheeling his bloated, sweaty, re-animated corpse about each elaborate set). Their fisticuffs occur in the first five minutes and, based on the shot selection and clear usage of body doubles, it isn't clear if both performers were ever in the same room together, as it's all garishly augmented with CGI and quick cutting. Thankfully, the brawl concludes with a poorly dubbed Tyson screaming "now you drink piss motherfucker!" after smashing one of Seagal's bodyguards. Why does he do this? Because that same goon tried to force him to drink a glass of hot urine at the beginning of the scene (naturally).

Seagal and Tyson are peripheral players, hovering around the movie's main story – a lowly telecommunications hocker named Jian (Yuan Li), who's currently bidding on the behalf of his corporation to win a contract that would help end a civil war (or coup, or something…the plotting is vague, to say the least) in Uganda. If Jian and his colleagues can put the two feuding factions in touch with each other utilizing their “superior” technology, then they can essentially teach these unwashed savages how to stop warring over nothing. It's essentially the plot of every "white savior" movie you've ever seen, only instead of Tom Cruise leading a band of samurai, it’s an Asian dude wandering around the desert, drinking goats' milk, lecturing folks about cell phones, and waving his country's red and yellow flag around. 

Unfortunately, Jian is held up by red tape, corporate sabotage, and a bunch of boardroom meetings that seemingly play out in real time. Like any great piece of trash cinema, there's an element of endurance test to Tan Bing's freshman feature, as we're subjected to scene after scene during China Salesman's nigh interminable 110-minute runtime of folks screaming at each other in various forms of broken English (the other dialect primarily spoken outside of Chinese). Yet the beauty is found in how ineptly staged these sequences are, as a wholly melodramatic canned score nearly drowns out arguing adversaries that we can barely understand in the first place. Much of the interference run on our hero's plan is commanded by Lauder (Seagal) and his intel man Kabbah (Tyson, sneaking around like a cartoon character and listening to phone conversations), both of whom work for the overly European faux Bond villain Michael (Clovis Fouin). Their alliance only renders the opening brawl that much more baffling.

Thankfully, there are some completely bugnuts action sequences to break up the monotony, involving tanks, Kid Dynamite firing a rocket launcher at helicopters, and multiple machine gun duels, all executed with an almost surrealist lack of geography. Imagine the guerilla auteurs of Wakaliwood being granted a few million in resources to shoot a piece of nationalist rah-rah nonsense in their country (but not for their country) and you have a solid idea of what to expect. None of it looks particularly good – as the cinematography owns a wonky, disorienting, plastic, digital sheen – but it's all so head-spinningly out of its mind that you're exhausted by the time the end credits roll (after Tyson declares a jihad on a tech conference and screams a bunch of indecipherable nonsense about “god” and “sacrifice”). 

In short, China Salesman is a piece of shit; a massive, steaming turd that probably shouldn't exist, but does. Yet its North American release landing this close to the Gotti phenom acts as a solid reminder that the most objectively repulsive trash classics aren’t pushed on you by a corporation like MoviePass. It's the gross anomalies that you stumble upon and then can't stop watching, mostly because half the time you're trying to figure out why anyone thought this was a good idea to finance (let alone release internationally). China Salesman is racist, sexist, gaudily hyper-violent, owns a problematic nationalistic text, and features two "stars" that should've never been allowed to participate in these shenanigans. Beat that with a stick, John Travolta.

China Salesman is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.