Review: 'China Salesman', Not Even Mike Tyson And Steven Seagal Can Sell This Low-Rent Action Flick

With the current controversy over Chinese telecom ZTE I'm fairly certain China Salesman is little more than a propaganda piece disguised to infiltrate us through an American action flick. This flag-waving slice of mediocrity boasts a ridiculous plot in which warring Chinese and European telecom companies try to win a lucrative contract in a North African country when civil war erupts. The only one who can save the day? A humble, heroic I.T. engineer Yan Jian (Dongxue Li) who must not only avoid getting caught in the battlefield crossfire, but he must restore cell phone service to the country while also working hard to win the contract! Get that man a raise!

Sneaky, because a look at the poster and trailer feature past-their-prime action stars Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal, leading you to think this is a movie in which they are prominent forces. Well...nah. But for about three glorious minutes, all packed within the first 10 minutes of the movie, Tyson and Seagal give us the showdown we were anticipating. Sorta. Tyson plays Kabbah, a mercenary of dubious African accent who refuses to drink alcohol in the bar owned by former merc/black ops agent Lauder (Seagal), who takes offense. So Lauder has one of his goons offer Kabbah a glass of piss to drink instead, which starts a comically inept brawl between the two out of shape brawlers.

Director Tan Bing doesn't have much to work with from a budget standpoint; the movie looks incredibly cheap from beginning to end, but Tyson and Seagal make matters worse. First of all there's Seagal, who may have been wearing a tarp and has lost any credibility as a legit badass fighter. The quick, fluid palm strikes that defined his '80s career are now so slow you'd think they were some kind of camera trick.  Tyson is still pretty imposing when given the right material but his lack of motivation here is obvious. Perhaps it has something to do with him not really throwing blows at Seagal, but some lousy stunt double? The rumor is that both men wouldn't even stage the fight unless it would end in draw that saves their fragile screen reputations. Ting used body doubles to get around this ridiculous demand, and employed some rapid fire editing so hide the fact that Tyson and Seagal never share the screen for a moment. It's as ugly and amateurish as it sounds, with shots of both men swinging wildly at air.

If you only signed up for the main event fight between Tyson and Seagal, your best bet is to shut the movie off now. They continually reappear later, with Kabbah leading one murderous rebel faction tied to the Europeans and Lauder popping up to dispense unwanted words of wisdom, and in each case it becomes obvious how little time either actor spent on set. They always look like they just drove in from the hotel, which is probably accurate. You'll find nothing but unintentional comedy from the pathetic matchbox special effects or the unpolished screenplay with nebulous stakes. Cell phone service goes out and an entire nation is thrown into chaos? Damn! Beasts of No Nation this ain't! Action sequences seem to exist completely separate from one another, and occasionally end with Yan Jian literally waving the Chinese flag, apparently the international symbol of peace in whatever reality this movie exists in.

When the story diverts from Yan Jian's straightline mission to fix the broken cell towers it somehow gets even more absurd. The overly earnest engineer finds himself captured by natives over a stupid misunderstanding that he kidnapped a local girl (???). It makes zero sense. Later the United Nations come swooping in with an attack helicopter, saving Yan Jian's ass from certain doom. Moments later they land and immediately inform him they can't get involved. Uhhhh, I guess all those missiles you just used to kill a bunch of rebels don't count? Clearly there wasn't a lot of time spent on the details of anything, other than pushing some weird Chinese agenda through phony-sounding speeches about freedom and telecommunications equality. No bullshit.

If you've managed to endure an hour you'll be treated to what appears to be the movie's natural conclusion. Yan Jian has accomplished his mission, mobile phones are active everywhere again, the threat is neutralized, and all should be right in the world. One look at the clock will tell you there's still a good 45 minutes left, though, and if you sit through it the pain of a belabored plot worn thin is on your head. China Salesman tries to sell you on a lot of crap, but don't let it sell you on it being worth a complete viewing. You'll be getting the short end of that bargain for sure.

Rating: 0 out of 5