Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson's 'China Salesman' Is the Most 'AFM' Film of AFM

A supercharged plot about a humble Chinese cellphone salesman who somehow averts a civil war in Africa, featuring explosions, bazookas, tanks and an eight-minute fight sequence between the action heavyweights. Sold!
Courtesy: TriCoast Worldwide
'China Salesman'

In today’s age of major film industry disruptions, Silicon Valley billions flooding the market and diminishing opportunities for traditional schlocky AFM fare, it’s good to see that some people are still sticking to the classic Loews model. That being: well travelled action star ­+ high-octane, low-dialog script + intense '80s-era poster (optional) = just enough of a global audience to make it work.

One such example is China Salesman, being offered by TriCoast Worldwide and the first honoree of The Hollywood Reporter’s "Most 'AFM' Film of AFM" award, an impressive achievement for a title that doesn’t star Nicolas Cage.

Based on a supposedly true story, the $20 million film follows a quick-thinking Chinese telecoms sales rep who uncovers a major conspiracy while on a trade mission to sell equipment to North Africa, somehow averting a major civil war in the process. So far, so "Right, I see."

A casual glance at the poster, however, reveals a couple of killer ingredients. Not only has director Tan Bing secured the services of AFM hero Steven Seagal as a legendary mercenary, but he’s landed former boxing champion Mike Tyson as a gun-toting army general. As if this wasn’t enough, the two square off in an eight-minute fight scene that pits Seagal’s lightning-fast palms against Tyson’s thunderous fists.

Casting these two action heavyweights was no easy feat, involving a “very difficult” negotiating process for Tan, who had to make separate trips to the U.S. to persuade them to come onboard. The main issue, he says, was that “both wanted to be the winner of the fight,” forcing him to placate matters by saying it ended in a draw (it doesn't, by the way).

Working with Tyson — not exactly a classically trained actor — didn’t come without its hurdles, with Tan having to shoot the film chronologically so he could get into his role. “But it was a very special experience for him, he was very moved by the process,” he says.

Offering a taste of China Salesman’s action, the trailer — an explosive spectacle that boasts tanks, bazookas, girls and angry mobile phone technology comparisons — seemingly has more fatalities in its four minutes, 19 seconds than the whole of Rambo (which it actually appears to channel quite heavily in moments). And it’s racked up some 1.5 million YouTube views (not all by THR on Saturday afternoon), showing that there’s definitely some appetite for this sort of old-fashioned action romp still out there.

China Salesman and Tan Bing, we salute you. Watch the trailer below.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 5 daily issue at the American Film Market.

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