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Film Reviews Review: China Hustle chronicles a growing monster in our financial markets

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An image from China Hustle, a documentary by director Jed Rothstein.

Mongrel

rating

  • China Hustle
  • Directed by Jed Rothstein
  • Opening March 30
  • PG
  • 82 minutes

“There are no good guys in this story. Including me,” says money manager Dan David, looking straight to camera in Jed Rothstein’s disconcerting documentary about China-based companies bilking Western investors out of billions through fraudulent accounting.

David’s cynicism is well-earned: After years of trying – and failing – to get authorities to listen to his warnings about Chinese companies that snagged listings on U.S. and Canadian stock exchanges without submitting their books to the scrutiny of an initial public offering, David turned into a short-seller, researching and publicizing the companies’ chicanery and then betting against them in hopes of cashing out as their values plummet. Rothstein reveals that, just as with the mortgage crisis that almost crippled the global economy in 2008, the so-called gatekeepers we believe are keeping us safe from fraud are actually pocketing hefty fees and looking the other way.

If this is a well-known story in Canada – the tale of the TSX-listed Sino Forest fraud is still playing out in our business pages – Rothstein has assembled a colourful cast of hustlers to leaven your moral outrage: Surfer-dude hedge-funders, a stage-diving bank chairman who parties with Kid Rock, and a four-star general who rented his credibility to a string of dodgy investments.

In horror movies, monsters often lose their power to terrify once they come fully into the frame. But as Rothstein reveals the full shape and size of an ogre that has slipped into our financial markets, just try to calm your growing dread.

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