Capitalism, as The China Hustle supposes, isn’t just a way for hardworking people to get ahead; it’s the perfect system to con, cheat, and fraud your way to the top.
The hustle in question: reverse mergers that allowed roughly 400 Chinese companies to be traded on Wall Street (100 of which are still trading and worth $1.1 trillion), resulting in a severe economic crisis.
As the talking heads explain, Chinese companies are not allowed to be listed and publicly traded on the NYSE and NASDAQ. But if the Chinese company in question merged with an American company that had previously been listed—say, a defunct mining company out of Nevada—then the Chinese company could be listed and traded the same way Amazon, Google, and Apple are.
But Amazon, Google, and Apple are all American companies and must adhere to American business practices and transparencies. Not so with these reverse mergers, shell companies that talk big and produce little, and, in some cases, nothing at all.
Therein lies the conflict at the heart of the doc. Directed by Jed Rothstein and produced by the team behind Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The China Hustle combines interviews with short sellers, investment bankers, and journalists to paint a picture of an ongoing financial crisis that’s going from bad to worse.
Elbow deep in these murky waters is Dan David, a man on a mission to blow the lid off the hustle while shorting the stocks of known hustlers. Like Sisyphus rolling his boulder, David encounters impossible forces every step of the way. From fellow investors, who are making too much money to give a shit, to his family, who neither understand the issue nor cares to. In one telling scene, David explains his mission at a family barbecue. They listen cordially but are much more interested in the beer they’re drinking and about the article one of them read about the aliens buried thousands of feet below China.
If capitalism is the system that allows someone to lie, cheat, and steal their way to the top, then apathy is the state that enables them to do so. What a perfect storm we’ve found ourselves in.
The China Hustle is in limited release and available VOD.