The China Hustle

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The China Hustle Movie Poster Image
Investors lose billions in 21st-century fraud; language.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 82 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Urges caution and due diligence in investments. Details lack of oversight by U.S. gatekeepers (government, SEC, brokerage houses). Watch out for those on commission.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the interviewees display courage, teamwork, communication skills, curiosity. Government watchdogs and major brokerage houses are portrayed as ineffectual and gullible. 

Violence
Sex
Language

Occasional profanity: "f--k," "s--t," "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking in background.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The China Hustle is a documentary about a massive fraud that was perpetrated on American investment markets after the 2008 economic meltdown. Lack of oversight, combined with the seductive allure of China with its trove of "ripe" investment opportunities, resulted in billions of dollars spent on entities that were totally misrepresented. Greed and indifference played important roles. Filmmaker Jed Rothstein exposes the scam with the assist of savvy investors who themselves made a killing in the downturn. Occasional profanity is heard, including "f--k." Messages about the vulnerability of the U.S. public, pension funds, and institutional investing are heard loud and clear. Teens who have an interest in economics, politics, and business ethics, or even simply recent history, should find the film engaging.

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What's the story?

As a premise, THE CHINA HUSTLE considers the definition of capitalism: Is it an economic system? Or a way to make more money for ourselves and take more than others? Jed Rothstein and his filmmaking team assemble a cast of people (almost all of them white men) who as investment brokers discovered that after the economic travesty of 2008, when U.S. investors were hungry for profits, hundreds of Chinese companies were falsifying records to greatly pump up their revenues. The U.S. brokers then sold stock based on those inflated figures. The companies used a loophole in the U.S. financial market system called "reverse mergers" (using a mostly defunct U.S. business as a shell company to cover their tracks), so their unethical and illegal maneuvers weren't subject to thorough oversight. Everybody appeared to be making easy money ... too easy for a few thoughtful folks like Dan David, Carson Block, Matthew Wiechert, and John Carnes (aka "Albert Little"), who decided to do actual "due diligence" in China. Rothstein uses extensive interviews, footage from China, visits with congressional committees, lawyers, brokers, and Chinese businessmen to fully explain what the whistleblowers discovered, and to clarify the entire ugly situation, for which only unsuspecting investors paid the $14 billion price.

Is it any good?

Award-winning filmmaker Jed Rothstein's film works as both a cautionary tale and as a compelling study of ineptitude, wishful thinking, and greed among folks in the U.S. investment community. In the time of the 24-hour new cycle, the internet, and the explosion of pundits pontificating in sound bites, movies like The China Hustle still have a singular way of holding an audience's attention for an hour or more to delve deeply into an important and timely issue.  

Rothstein shocks us, teaches us, and keeps us rooting for the few men who had the courage and desire to speak out even when no one would listen. It's almost fitting that those brave souls figured out a way to make a profit amid the chaos. At the end of the film, with an eye on making it personal, Rothstein interviews victims of the scam: older couples, middle-class, hard-working folks. Where was or is the oversight? 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the intent of documentaries: to inform, entertain, inspire, or persuade. Which category (or categories) applies to The China Hustle? Why? 

  • The folks trying to expose the wrongdoing in this story were met by ignorance, disinterest, and/or cowardice. What important character traits did they call upon to continue their efforts? 

  • In show business terms, this movie may be described as consisting mainly of "talking heads." It's a challenge for filmmakers to provide visuals to stand alongside the interviews. How did Jed Rothstein and his team meet this challenge?

  • Jed Rothstein asks these questions more than once in the movie: "What is capitalism? Is it an economic system or a way to make more money for ourselves and take more from others?" How would you answer him? 

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