Flat Broke, by Tyler Smith
There are movies that you just want to be good. You can tell that the people making the film clearly were excited to make it and put a lot of themselves into it. There is an earnestness that permeates every frame. Clearly a lot of hard work and sacrifice went into it. Sometimes that level of commitment is enough to carry me through the rougher patches in a film; sometimes, though, it’s just not enough. And, as much as I would like to give Supercapitalist an A for effort, I just can’t recommend this film on any level.
The story of a slick young New York hedge fund trader moving to Hong Kong to work out the details of a somewhat shady corporate takeover is all well and good. It’s a little broad, but that’s hardly a crime. Sometimes movies have to tell you stories you’ve heard before in order for you to pay closer attention to the details. Of course, the problem comes in when we realize that the details are pretty bad, too.
I couldn’t really follow what was going on this movie, and, after a while, I just didn’t care. These characters didn’t seem real to me. It seemed like an amateurish screenplay written by a high school student. I know this because I myself wrote a script much like this. It was called The Model Citizen and was about political corruption. What did I know about political corruption in high school? Absolutely nothing. Except what I saw in movies like True Colors and City Hall. As such, the characters and the dialogue had an inherently phony feel to them. It’s one thing to write a bad script based on reality; it’s quite another to write a bad script based on other bad scripts that were somehow related to reality.
This was the big problem of Supercapitalist. Nothing seems real. The characters encounter obstacles and enact scenes that are so fake-feeling that we can see the writer sitting at his laptop, thinking to himself, “Hm. I really need to up the stakes. I know! I should throw in a cute kid!”
I wonder if the film would have been better had the writer had a stronger feel for his material. I got the impression that he chose to tell a story of modern corporate intrigue because it has cultural relevance, not because he had a passion for it. And when one compares this film to J.C. Chandor’s wonderful Margin Call or Ben Younger’s Boiler Room, it looks all the more out of its depth.
The film is adequately shot, and I think the director, Simon Yin, could have a future ahead of him. The action takes place primarily in Hong Kong and one really gets a sense of the hustle and bustle of a crowded city. We feel like there are important things happening all the time. Unfortunately, he leans a little too heavily on the use of montage; there are easily at least five or six. And, of course, each montage contains images that we’ve seen so many times. It just wouldn’t be a movie about corporate corruption if we didn’t see a hookers-and-blow montage, would it?
This type of material, written this way, could be virtually impossible for even the most seasoned actors to sell. And, sadly, the cast in Supercapitalist is not quite up to the challenge. Lead actor Derek Ting- also the writer- is solid enough, likely because he was the most committed to delivering these lines just the right way. Every other actor, however, spends the movie either over or underplaying their roles. This can be a particular kind of death for a movie like this; if you have a quiet, somewhat flat performance next to an blustery, bombastic one, it can look like one actor isn’t doing enough and the other is doing too much.
Even character actor Linus Roache- of Batman Begins and Law & Order fame– comes out looking bad. His overly cocky corporate shark seems more like an SNL parody of Gordon Gekko than a real character that is meant to exist in real life. Factor in his white collars, slicked back hair, and suspenders, and it becomes eye rolling just how much the filmmakers are trying to evoke the iconic Michael Douglas character.
And in the midst of all this there is the message of the film. Because movies like this usually have some sort of point that they want to get across. As far as I can tell, Derek Ting and Simon Yin are trying to indict American capitalism, saying that we put money ahead of people. This is hardly a new idea, but it has been the basis for more than a few interesting movies, so I’m fine with it.
The problem with Supercapitalist is that they wind up undermining their own point. A character talks about his company being made up of people, not ideas, and this is what makes it special. Later in the film, said company is saved by a really great idea. This same character lectures us about the importance of family over profits. But, of course, he is betrayed by a member of his own family. And, then, there is the scene in which the company owner’s son talks about loyalty being more vital than money, right before he proceeds to buy people’s loyalty with a lot of money. So, it would appear that money is evil, but only until you need it for something, and that people and family are good, but could possibly betray you.
This is what I mean when I say that Supercapitalist seems to be a first draft type of script. Everything is obvious and overly broad and the well-worn ideas that it wants to explore aren’t even well executed. When I saw the film, it was introduced to us by Derek Ting, the writer and star. He seemed like a really nice guy and was very excited that his film- which he mentioned he had been working on for six years- was finally getting a wide release. I wish I could say that his film was good, but I just can’t. I sincerely hope he keeps trying and that the movie will be better next time.