Film Review: Unmade in China

Ugly Americans and not so pretty Chinese dominate this cheesy doc about a cheesy group of L.A. filmmakers trying to make a cheesy film in China with Chinese backing.

Talk about slaying the dragon. It’s almost a toss-up whether it’s the Americans or the Chinese who come out worse in this sloppy documentary about some Yank filmmakers on the loose in China to make the kind of genre junk that would have been peddled years past in the deepest bunkers of film markets. L.A.-based motor-mouth co-director, co-writer and star Gil Kofman is all over Unmade in China and so must also be credited with part of the film’s unmaking.

The story of the film Kofman and gang are trying to make is beside the point, evidence being that the doc pays no attention to such details except for one quick reference to its “Case Sensitive” title. Rather, Unmade in China is all about the obstacles faced (getting a script the Chinese will approve, promised cash advances, a workable budget, locations, etc.). And, most challenging, getting a cast and crew that won’t bolt from this shoddy project.

Throughout his ordeal (which looks suspiciously contrived for the sake of capturing the footage, if not pre-conceived at pitch stage as an “unmaking” exposé), Kofman is a loud presence, over-generous with commentary about the shoot’s disappointments and problems. The doc’s only love interest is Kofman’s with himself. There’s no respect shown or expressed for the Chinese; apparently, he doesn’t learn a word of Mandarin except to betray one lame “Ni Hao” (“Hello”) in a store. We do get to see him enjoying some of the perks of doing business with the Chinese: banquets, booze, and the occasional strip joint and hooker.

At least the structure of Unmade in China makes sense. Kofman uses the notion of a film being made three times—in the writing, shooting and editing—as a way to tell his story of the un-making of his Chinese production.

Unmade in China is not pornographic but has that whiff about it, as unpleasant as its pervasive stench of phoniness and vulgarity. The film also reaffirms that egomania and denial make good bedfellows. The good news is that there’s nothing here that could translate to a setback to that Holy Grail of Americans and Chinese actually joining forces for a film that honors and pleases both cultures.