Plot: As the area teeters on the brink of a civil war, another conflict arises within Uganda as a cellular network is about to be build, so numerous countries want to be the hand that engineers that network. After all, the area is rich in valuable resources and that draws out all kinds of nefarious groups, though some just want to build the best possible infrastructure. A small Chinese firm has representatives in the hunt, but corruption runs rampant and a French contingent even resorts to sabotage, when it becomes clear their tech is inferior. Meanwhile, the area continues to sink deeper into unrest and even as the Chinese engineers race to win the open tech contract, violence and chaos begin to erupt all around them.
Entertainment Value: This one is based on real life events, but I can’t speak to how accurate this adaptation is, but I think we all hope there was an actual brawl between Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal involved. While Seagal is long past his prime and decades into his direct to video run, he still has name value and of course, what action fan doesn’t want to see him mix it up with Iron Mike? The movie delivers on that promise, but this is more of a tense drama with some thriller elements mixed in, though there is frequent action. I think the action proves to be the most memorable part of China Salesman, as the dramatic sections feel drawn out and rather bland. This movie pushes two hours and just doesn’t have the depth of material to fill the run time, so it leans on filler and that hurts the film’s pace. The movie also has a clear propaganda texture involved, which some might think is bad, but I think it is so heavy handed at times, it adds some unintended humor and I appreciate that. There’s enough action to keep genre fanatics interested, but China Salesman is likely to lose a lot of viewers with the slow pace and thin, filler laden narrative.
I was drawn to China Salesman by the lure of a potential Seagal vs. Tyson showdown and while the two aren’t as prominent as the marketing suggests, the promised duel does indeed go down. I have to think b movie action fans know how the advertising routine works by now, so I hope no one expected Tyson and Seagal as the leads, but at least China Salesman gives them solid screen presence. Tyson has a lot of lines in fact and while his dialogue is poorly looped, his performance is enthusiastic and he has some quite hilarious moments. He plays it sincere and straight, which makes it all the more fun and outlandish. Seagal barely moves outside of his battle moves, but at least he does duke it out with Tyson. The two scrap in an early fight scene, sparked by an effort by Seagal to have Tyson drink urine, so you know a fistfight over a glass of pee is going to be fun. I am sure a lot of action fans will wish the two were around more or even the focus of the movie, but I think these smaller roles work well and I was thrilled to see Tyson given so much to do.