In the gentle, low budget comedy Made in China, an eager beaver type from small town America gets it into his head that he’s going to invent the next big fad novelty. He hits up his family, friends, and neighbors for financial backing, then turns to the Internet.
There he makes contact with someone in China who promises to arrange to produce whatever he needs very cheaply, but only if he comes over in person to close the deal.
So off he goes to China, where he is promptly, predictably, fleeced. But he keeps plugging away, trying to make things happen for himself.
A mysterious British businessman takes pity on him and offers to help him. Soon he’s out even more money, but refuses to give up.
For the first half hour or so, this film was only mildly interesting to me and didn’t particularly draw me in. It picked up some after that, as I got interested in following the cons. But then I felt like it fizzled to something of a blah ending.
The central character is a likable guy. I admired his ability to stay positive and get the most out of his experiences. Even when he’s most distraught about being robbed and when things look bleakest, he’s still able to appreciate the beauty of the country, he’s still able to relax and spend an enjoyable afternoon with a local girl he just met on the train, and of course he’s still able to hold on to his dream and keep plugging away to bring his novelty idea to fruition.
That whole first section of the movie when he heads to China, what I felt most of all was a vicarious stress, just knowing I could never in a million years do what he’s doing—hop on a plane to the other side of the world, to a completely foreign land with a dictatorial government, unable to speak the language, with my only contact in the entire country being a person I had never met and knew nothing about except what he’d told me online. He really has balls to go over there by himself and just have the faith that he’ll be able to wing it.
Balls, and of course stupidity, people would be quick to point out. Yes, he’s certainly naïve.
But is he unrealistically naïve, and laughably stupid? I don’t know. No one is born worldly. Everyone watching this movie laughing at him was capable of making similarly imprudent decisions and being ripped off by con artists until they wised up, whether that was at age 12, 18, 22, or 30. We just happen to be seeing him when he’s short of that line. I certainly made bad decisions with money when I was young. So I’m not inclined to feel all that superior to him.
I also thought as I was watching this that it’s a good illustration of how it may be easier to cheat someone who’s got faith in himself and is determined to do all it takes to succeed. I was conversing with a friend about this very phenomenon not long ago, about someone we know who for the most part has been quite successful in life, but who seems to have a penchant for being manipulated into taking unwise risks by people who may not be as intelligent and/or honorable as he is convinced they are.
I think a lot of it is he’s a real go-getter, positive thinker type, and so a message of “This is going to work, this is a great opportunity!” fits his worldview and draws him in, while skepticism and doubt and hesitation are things he tries to keep out of his life because he associates them with defeatism. He’s willing to take risks, because he’s trained himself to believe that you have to be willing to put your faith in what you do and go all out to make it happen. If you think about it, that kind of person is vulnerable to a slick-talking hustler.
But he’s also more likely to succeed. That’s what I see in the main character in this movie. His willingness to believe in people, to pay a lot of money to people who may well burn him, to fly to foreign countries with minimal preparation, to take wild chances and believe in himself, is bound to result in his being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous people. But it also means that however much he gets screwed over along the way, he’s got a good chance to come out on top in the end, because he doesn’t pass up any opportunities. He takes chances, and he doesn’t give up just because one of them doesn’t pan out.
One of the reasons the movie kind of fizzled for me is that just when the con angle is getting interesting, the primary con man turns out inexplicably to be an ineffectual boob who can no longer con even this stereotypical rube. I liked when he was a more interesting and capable villain.
I found the periodic interludes about famous novelty devices and their inventors to be mostly kind of interesting. It’s a cute gimmick.
Made in China is a warm comedy about a very genuine guy you can’t help but like, so I didn’t hate the movie by a long shot. But it’s thin, only a little funny here and there, and just not as interesting as maybe this idea could have been with better execution. So, a semi-dud, albeit a likable semi-dud.