I’ve been working my way through Steven Seagal’s DTV career for almost 20 years now and yet I wasn’t prepared for the snoozefest that is China Salesman. While this movie was on my list for a long time, I kept pushing it back. Mostly due to its running time and the fact that almost none of Seagal’s output since Exit Wounds has been any good. While most Seagal movies are in the 80-90 minute range and still manage to drag, China Salesman is a whopping 110 minutes. And there is even a cherry on top: this isn’t a Seagal movie.
In reality China Salesman is about a Chinese IT company representative, Yan Jian, who tries to win a sales pitch for his company. The winner gets to provide an entire African country with a state of the art 3G GSM network. Among the way he comes across a conspiracy to start a civil war and has to deal with everything that is thrown against him like heavy gunfire, sandstorms and possibly a female circumcision performed on a young child.
And did I mention that this is all based on a true story?
Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson are front and center on a movie poster from a film that is supposedly based on a true story. What a time to be alive.
Which brings me to the marketing of China Salesman. Just take a look at the poster. Both Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal in fighting poses. A second picture of them actually fighting beneath the title. A heavily armed UN helicopter which isn’t in the movie and lots of flames and sparks. To top it all off there is a quote from The Hollywood Reporter:
AN EXPLOSIVE SPECTACLE
So I looked up this movie on the website of The Hollywood Reporter expecting to find a review. There isn’t one. What I did found was this article from which the quote was lifted. Here is the quote in full:
Offering a taste of China Salesman’s action, the trailer — an explosive spectacle that boasts tanks, bazookas, girls and angry mobile phone technology comparisons — seemingly has more fatalities in its four minutes, 19 seconds than the whole of Rambo (which it actually appears to channel quite heavily in moments).
The author is talking about a trailer, but it’s slapped on the poster as if it was an excerpt from an actual review. I’m starting to think that Sony distributed this movie.
But the main draw of this movie is of course the Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal fight. It takes place in the first 12 minutes of the movie and lasts about two minutes. It’s bar brawl and surprisingly Seagal actually loses. Though I doubt Seagal and Tyson were ever in the same room together as so much of the fight consists clearly of one action star against the stunt double of the other. The most positive thing about the fight is that it happens so early in the movie. This way people will just have to watch 12 minutes of this movie and can turn it off and not waste 97 minutes of their time.
Those who do stick around are in for 97 minutes of Yan Jian trying to outsmart the competition and win the sales pitch. When his company’s product is slower than its competitors all it takes for him is a couple of hours of coding to make it faster. When a cell tower is destroyed he figures out a way to use a sandstorm to increase the range of the signal. He is a tech- and street smart character who comes out on top in every scene. He’s also the face of Chinese patriotism.
All of his non Chinese co-stars are either evil or underestimate him. The constant message this movie conveys is that China is the best. When caught under heavy fire the solution to a safe passage is waving a Chinese flag around. Every time those evil french competitors try to sabotage his sales pitch Yan Jian’s clever thinking puts him, and therefor China, on top. There is a whole segment revolved around his company releasing their source code proving to the world they have nothing to hide. How times have changed as we live in a world where China’s consumer technologies are globally suspected of spying on the West.
China Salesman is a disaster on all levels. The editing, the pacing and worst of all the acting. Of the entire cast Steven Seagal basically gives the best performance since he just does what he always does: mumbling the few lines he has. The rest of the cast struggle with a common adversary: the English language. The cast consists largely out of non English speakers and the way they deliver lines they seemingly don’t even understand is hilarious.
But surprisingly Mike Tyson is the worst offender of all. He makes Seagal look like a thespian. The man is so incredibly bad. He tries to go for a Mr T. approach with his style of acting but lacks all of the charisma that made T. a star and an icon. Every line he utters feels as if he’s trying to read it from a cue card next to the camera.
China Salesman is an overlong and boring film. The movie caught me off-guard when it seemed that it was over as Yan Jian saved the day and stopped a civil war from happening. Only for the movie to stick on another 20 minute finale about sharing the source code segment. I was so done with this movie and I think that it might be one of the worst movie I have ever seen. China Salesman is the Tommy Wiseau’s The Room of action movies.