One of the biggest surprises, for me, last year as a movie fan was John Maringouin’s Ghostbox Cowboy. It was also one of the best; here was something I never even knew existed, until I did, only to have it eat away at me for days after finally sitting down to watch it. One could easily mistake it for a documentary (easy to go, given the filmmakers’ resume), and in many ways this fictionalized fairy tale nearly is. Here’s a link to my review over at Popzara, and I encourage everyone reading this to check it out. The review, of course, and the movie!

In short: Jimmy Van Horn (David Zellner), a disenchanted Texan, heads to the giant megalopolis of Shenzhen, China, to reboot himself as one of those modern entrepreneurs, the non-creative types trying to convince the world they’ve got the answer to all that ails you. He’s got the cowboy hat and everything. The product he’s attempting to secure financing for itself is as suspect as the laowai behind it: Ghostr, an itty-bitty box with blinking lights promising communication with the dead. Sounds legit – sign me up!

Along the way poor Johnny confronts Chinese hospitality from every side, his total ignorance of both the language and culture making him a prime target for scammers and other dishonest types; and that’s just from his fellow Americans! Watch how easily even the crappiest technology can be pilfered, duplicated, manufactured, distributed and even pawned in record time when you’ve got the world’s largest market of systemic chaos at your disposal. It’s just like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, only in reverse, with the jungle consuming the man.

As I said in my original review of the film the biggest reason you should absolutely see Ghostbox Cowboy is to glimpse a China we rarely get to see, possibly by design. Sad how our Trump-obsessed media often succumbs to the whims of Chinese finagling in how the Middle Kingdom is portrayed to outsiders, if at all, with enormous pressure on our pusillanimous tech and corporate overlords to downplay (or often dissuade) less than savory content like this hitting your local theater or streaming box.

So next time you’re picking up those “cheap” plastic goods at Walmart or the closest Dollar Store/Tree, check out the label of origin and see where it was created. Quite possibly they originated in China, which helped make them one of the world’s biggest and most influential economies. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re eager to see just how the sausage is made (or in this case, ruthlessly stolen, copycatted and distributed) check out Ghostbox Cowboy while you still can. If nothing else, it’s a necessary peek inside how things work inside a country we somehow seem to know so much, yet so little, about.