The scam in The China Hustle is similar to ones explored in Boiler Room, but maybe even worse. It is a fascinating story about American investors who basically pattern their ethics after “if it isn’t illegal, how could it be wrong?” The cycle depicted in this film includes both outright fraud by Chinese companies, but also the complete abandonment of integrity by investment banks similar to the scale seen in The Big Short. Maybe it is time we aren’t surprised by this kind of rampant horror on Wall Street, but The China Hustle is both huge and largely under the radar. Most of the film takes place between the 2008 financial crisis and 2012.
The film’s voice of reason is Dan David (from Skippack, PA), co-founder of GeoInvesting, a firm that specializes in selling short. Basically they make themselves money by betting against things. And David and his firm have made a lot of money by investigating and releasing reports about Chinese companies that are flat-out lying about their size and profitability to the American market. David is a charismatic enough subject, and his transparency feels welcome. It feels like his firm has had their success, and now it’s time to do the right thing.
The most affecting part of the film comes when we meet the people who are really taking the hit from this activity, regular people. Not the investment banks or hedge funds, but regular people who saw the “China Miracle” as a way to make up for the losses they suffered from the real estate bubble burst.
While The China Hustle does have some great footage of Chinese companies with dozens of employees that claim to have hundreds, I’m not sure if film was the correct medium for the story. There are a lot of great interviews (especially one with Gen. Wesley Clark, who was the chairman of one of these banks), which make it almost feel suited to a podcast given that the film uses a lot of stock footage to make the interviews feel more lively.
Either way, The China Hustle is a great reminder that the wolves are alive and well on Wall Street.
The China Hustle opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.