A nagging feeling of déjà vu strikes during the opening scene of “$upercapitalist” when Mark Patterson (Linus Roache), head of a powerful New York City-based hedge fund, casually spouts his theory on the future of finance. That arrogance…that hair…excuse me, Michael Douglas, have you wandered onto the set of the wrong movie?
That’s where the similarities to “Wall Street” end. While that movie transformed the public perception of an entire industry and became a cultural reference, “$upercapitalist” high-handedly takes banker clichés and bashes the audience over the head with them in almost every scene, making this morality tale of family versus greed a sometimes tedious movie to watch.
The trouble starts when superstar trader Conner Lee (Derek Ting) makes an improbable but successful bet on interest rates that propels him onto his boss’s radar. Based on his merits, he gets transferred to Hong Kong to oversee a large trade involving Fei and Chang, a family-owned company that has seen better days. Before long, Conner gets involved in a plot to manipulate Fei and Chang’s stock price in order to enhance his own fund’s position (and his own bank account, should he succeed), but he slowly gets won over by some of the company’s employees. Torn between millions of dollars and the human costs of destroying a company, Conner must make a decision that could cost either his integrity or his job.
While the plot of “$upercapitalist” moves at the pace of any respectable thriller, the problems with this movie lay primarily with the written dialogue, the patchy acting abilities of the cast and the heavy-handedness with which the script lays out the themes and uses tired stereotypes. Mark’s pompous speech in the first scene of the film sets the groundwork for some cringe-worthy lines to come. “We are a superior, covert agency of operatives created and incentivized to fulfill one mission: your God-given right to make as much money as you can before you die,” he declares to two fellow financiers who look at him with stupefied expressions. You may find yourself wearing the same expression when hearing other actors’ lines such as, “You’re not a winner until you decide to be one,” and “You pull another stunt in there like that again, the only magic you’ll be doing is rubbing my magic lamp” (so says Conner’s boss as he crudely and graphically grabs his own member through his pants and shakes it at Conner’s face).
Saddled with this sort of dialogue, the cast could be forgiven for their inconsistent acting across the board. While showing some promise of talent, Kathy Uyen is miscast as Natalie Wang, Conner’s love interest, due to the fact that Uyen and Ting have zero chemistry. Balancing out Ting’s amateur performance (he is self-admittedly not the best actor – one feels that he is holding back somehow, resulting in a rigid depiction of Conner), Richard Ng (who plays Fei and Chang’s elderly patriarch, Donald Chang) makes an unexpected appearance in this low-budget movie. A famed Hong Kong comedy actor who appeared in films in the ‘80s and ‘90s, his skilled take on this heavy role is refreshing compared to those of the young whippersnappers who could learn a thing or two from him in this movie.
If only the conveyance of the movie’s themes were as smooth as Ng’s performance. The emphasis on maintaining morals and family loyalty – juxtaposed with the exaggerated stereotyped callousness of the financier attitude and lifestyle – was numbingly obvious. One wonders whether there had been an executive order to make each “family” scene as melodramatic as possible, while each “banker” scene should be engineered as a rap video to show off scantily-dressed women and expensive habits. It should not be a surprise which side ultimately wins the day at the end of the movie.
While “$upercapitalist” kept the action flowing and featured a good performance from Ng, these factors were not enough to keep it from ultimately being a shadow of other, better movies looking into the underworld of the much-maligned financial industry.