Film Review: China Salesman

An overlong sort-of action thriller about negotiating telecommunication contracts, China Salesman’s biggest draw is supporting turns by Mike Tyson and aging martial-arts movie star Steven Seagal.
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So, fresh-faced Yan Jian (Dong-Xue Li) is a tech guy for a large Chinese telecommunications firm. Because the company is shorthanded, the corporate decision makers encourage members of their IT staff to get out there and sell some cellular-service contracts in Africa, despite the fact that sales and Internet technology research/management/support demand entirely different skill sets. Jian’s mission is even kind of humanitarian: If his company can get a grid up and working, locals won’t have to rely on clunky old satellite phones—you can’t even play Candy Crush on those things, let alone go on Tinder. It’s all fine with Jian, because his desk job bores him and he’s up for a little adventure.

Which he gets. Along with colleague Ruan Ling (Li Ai), who’s already based abroad, Jian finds himself in the middle of a fine mess, starting with the fact that his company isn’t the only one that smells opportunity in Africa. Creepy French guy Michael (Clovis Fouin) and his predatory blonde partner Susanna (Janicke Askevold), who represent the European Telecom Union, are also sniffing around—“China salesman,” Michael huffs derisively from within his shiny car when he catches sight of Yan Jian gamely riding a camel.

Everybody goes to Lauder’s (Steven Seagal, billed as “Steve Seagal”) bar, because you can actually get a drink there. Not that muscle-for-hire Kabbah (Mike Tyson) cares—he doesn’t drink for religious reasons, which leads to the film’s most entertaining scene. It begins with Kabbah being served a beer glass full of urine because he refuses an alcoholic beverage (“I will stick to my faith”) and leads to a smack-down that concludes with Kabbah declaring in his soft, scratchy voice, “You serve me pee, you die!” Fair enough.

And the fight scene is pretty good, especially if Seagal’s dismissive swipe at Tyson’s ear isn’t a subtle Evander Holyfield joke, which it probably is not. But it happens ten minutes in, and subsequent events are pretty dull.

If it were half an hour shorter, China Salesman (released overseas as Deadly Contract, the epitome of generic titling) might be a candidate for “so bad it’s good (or at least kind of fun)” status. But it’s not, and nearly two hours of corporate squabbling is a lot to sit through, even interspersed with scenes like the one in which Tyson’s Kabbah boxes the hell out of some kung-fu prancing fools. Look for a swift exit from theatres—China Salesman’s future (probably under a different title, because China Salesman sounds like a depressing documentary) lies in nontheatrical markets where the names Tyson and Seagal have some retro cachet.