Monday, August 06, 2012

Supercapitalist: Playing Liars’ Poker in Hong Kong

Like a financial Luke Skywalker, Connor Lee is about to assume his destiny as the son of a legendary trader.  He will find it in Hong Kong.  His Chinese is limited, but he speaks money.  That will be all he needs in Simon Yin’s $upercapitalist (trailer here), the centerpiece selection of this year’s Asian American International Film Festival, which opens this Friday in New York.

Lee regularly predicts the unthinkable, yet is never able to adequately capitalize on his foresight.  That may soon change.  He has caught the eye of hedge fund master of the universe Mark Patterson, who dispatches him to Hong Kong.  His assignment is to mount a takeover of Fei & Chang, a hidebound family run conglomerate in which they already own a minority stake.  This does not sit well with the ruling Chang family, especially the heir apparent son, Richard, who is spearheading a top secret project afoot to radically re-engineer the company’s ailing import-export division. 

Will Lee facilitate the revitalization or the liquidation of the company?  This depends on who gets the final word: the devil or the angel sitting on his shoulders.  The devil is Quentin Wong, Lee’s colleague and mentor in the HK fast life.  The angel is Natalie Wang, a corporate publicist working with Richard Chang and his IT guru.

Once again, $upercapitalist portrays an American hotshot who must go abroad to get a lesson in business ethics.  At least it is HK rather than the CP dominated Mainland doing the teaching this time around.  However, the supposed killer app for employee motivation Richard Chang’s team is developing sounds highly dubious.  Essentially, their plan to increase productivity involves an intra-company facebook, in which workers try to amass attaboys from their peers.  I think I’d rather start the day with a dozen lashings.

Conceived as a star vehicle for himself, screenwriter Derek Ting has a few nice moments in $upercapitalist as Lee.  Mostly though, his character follows the old school Tom Cruise template of a humbled young Maverick finding redemption through the help of a more emotionally mature love interest.  Kathy Uyen holds up her end well enough as the virtuous publicist, but it is not a particularly well fleshed out role. 

However, as Wong, Darren E. Scott clearly enjoys playing the villain, bringing a nice infusion of energy to his scenes.  Still, for those who follow Asian cinema, the real highlight of $upercapitalist is seeing veteran HK actors Richard Ng (a Jackie Chan alumnus also seen in Detective Dee) and Kenneth Tsang (recently in Starry Starry Night, as well as John Woo classics like Once a Thief) do their thing as Chairman Donald Chang and his board member brother Victor, respectively.

$upercapitalist is not a bad boardroom soap opera, but it falls in too easily with the lazy Bain Capital attacks currently circulating in the media.  Frankly, if Fei & Chang’s import/export division is dragging down the entire company, they have a responsibility to all their employees to fix the problem.  Of course, why worry about the complexity of reality in a film when simplistic stereotypes are so much safer?  A decent showcase for some fine supporting work, the flawed but still quite watchable $upercapitalist opens this Friday (8/10) in New York at the Village East.