If movies were rated like debt, “Supercapitalist” would be a junk bond. Cluttered with cliches, unmemorable performances and a clunky script, this film is no “Wall Street” or “Margin Call.” Hyped as a financial thriller, it’s unlikely to fare better than Facebook’s botched IPO.
The movie opens with New York hedge-fund supremo Mark Patterson (Linus Roache from “Law & Order”) telling potential investors that Hong Kong is the world’s new financial frontier. Hello? This is 2012, not 1992.
Roache evokes Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko, without the hair gel. He talks about “the God-given right to make as much money as you can,” and how hedge-fund managers “make events.” As a master of the universe, he’s less than convincing.
Next we meet Patterson’s protege Conner Lee (Derek Ting), a Chinese-American know-it-all with an uncanny ability to win every gamble he takes, from sidewalk crap games to positions on the next interest rate move by the Federal Reserve. His mantra: “If you aren’t gambling, you aren’t living.”
Patterson sends Lee to Hong Kong to orchestrate a high-stakes deal involving Fei & Chang, a family-run conglomerate whose stock price has taken a beating. Despite his Chinese roots, Lee at first finds himself, like many Chinese-Americans, terribly out of his depth in Hong Kong.
Enter Quentin Wong (Darren E. Scott), a Eurasian working at Lee’s firm, who teaches him how to work and live like a supercapitalist, Hong Kong style. They drink. They do coke. They spar in the gym. They get laid. They go to casinos. When they aren’t behaving like frat boys, they punch out trades on their Bloomberg terminals.
Reader alert: Bloomberg paid nothing for this product placement, although it gave the film crew free access to our Hong Kong office to shoot a couple of scenes.
Lee’s firm buys enough shares in the ailing company to merit a seat on the board, where he is openly reviled as a brash upstart by the family patriarch, ably played by veteran Hong Kong actor Richard Ng. Kenneth Tsang (“Die Another Day,” “Rush Hour 2”) plays his brother and Number 2.
Then Lee meets Natalie Wang (Kathy Uyen), PR director at Fei & Chang, who sees the good side of Lee before he does. Despite the hackneyed dialogue -- “Every day you go out there, you place bets, you take risks but can’t even take a gamble on us” -- their romance blossoms. Together with a loyal corporate lieutenant (Lester Chan) they uncover a plot that will undermine both Lee’s own trades and the very future of the company.
There’s a murder, and Lee gets beaten up, but ultimately he unmasks the perpetrators of a secret poison pill inside his own firm and at Fei & Chang in time to save the company and get the girl.
Still, it takes far too long to reach the climax. Halfway through the film, during one of the many scenes taking place in an office high-rise, I found myself wishing Batman would come crashing through a window to liven things up.
Ting, 36, who also wrote and produced the film, majored in statistics at Cornell before taking a job as an actuary at Mercer Consulting in New York. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he decided to pursue acting. He started making film shorts and moved to Hong Kong in 2005 to take a job at CNN.
Ting says he “didn’t grow up on indie art films,” and it shows. Still, he’s to be lauded for producing something outside Hong Kong’s clubby studio system.
The film was made for less than $500,000. Yet it looks as slick as any studio film, a credit to director Simon Yin and cinematographer Derrick Fong. And Ben Robinson’s original soundtrack is terrific.
Though Ting says the film “won’t be such a capitalism-driven thing,” there are probably enough people in finance -- with or without jobs -- who will want to see a movie about their industry.
Once the movie opens in Hong Kong in October it may sell enough tickets to break even, no mean feat for a first-time filmmaker.
“Supercapitalist” premiered in the U.S. on Aug. 10 and will open in Hong Kong in October. Rating: *
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Good * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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