John Maringouin


7.4 Ghostbox Cowboy (2018) Links:

After the documentaries Running Stumbled (2006) and Big River Man (2009), John Maringouin (USA) directed Ghostbox Cowboy (2018), shot like a documentary with many non-professional actors. It is a difficult and Kafka-esque allegory about a naive provincial man who dreams of getting rich and is instead easily duped by greedy amoral types and keeps falling until he becomes a mere entertainer. It is also an allegorical eulogy for the death of the "American dream", a death that spreads worldwide, as China is shown to be the exact opposite of the "American" dream. And it is also a satire of the high-tech world. There are maybe too many symbols that surface and questions remain, like in a David Lynch film. Jimmy, a technology entrepreneur, lands in China wearing a cowboy hat. He is met by a young Chinese businessman who complains of being very lonely. We are then introduced to an expat called the Specialist or Spesh, a "gray market evangelist" (the subtitle on the screen), as this man walks around the busy streets of the city and his voiceover informs us that he left the USA because he couldn't find any job, due to the lack of a college degree, and a friend offered him a job in China. On the phone Jimmy tells someone that he relocated the manufacturing of his invention to China but is cautious about disclosing details. He then meets with Spesh who advises him to relocate to Africa, actually, and then shows him around the small manufacturing shops of China. Jimmy shows his invention to a group of local investors (Gao Fushai, Cedric and Tony), all of them very Westernized (one actually born in the USA). His invention is a black box that allows the user to communicate with the dead. He says he tested it by communicating with his own dead granma, and claims he needs to be in the appropriate geographical location to demonstrate it. He admits that he is looking for capital. He mentions his friend Bob, and the three get cold, implying that they don't like Bob. This Bob organizes a dinner during which Jimmy pitches his invention to several rich Chinese. Jimmy and Bob head to Jimmy's hotel room where Bob sniffs cocaine and reveals that he is 68 years old but thanks to a blond wig and a denture he looks 40. Bob mentions that an influential man named Johnny Mai Thai believes in Jimmy. A flashback shows the lonely factory owner, Vincent, in a casino of the USA. Someone paid for his trip there for a business meeting. He tells his hosts that he wants to play with guns and they take him hunting with high-tech guns. Beack to China, Spesh encourages Jimmy to invest in China. Spesh's voiceover tells us a story about gerbils invading north of China, and China dropping cyanide pill (originally designed for the growing US market of suicides) when the gerbils had already moved elsewhere with the result that the north of China is now littered with cyanide pills that bear the US flag. Vincent gives Jimmy a tour of the factory where his device will be built. Two Chinese girls gossip that Jimmy and Bob are friends of Johnny Mai Thai and comment in Chinese that Vincent is a fake. We then fast forward to the launch party for the device, Ghostr, a party organized by Bob. At one point Jimmy stops the music and pathetically reads a boring speech on his smartphone, but the crowd boos and the dj turns up the music to drown his voice. A Russian prostitute drives him to her place and they have sex. The following day Jimmy learns that his speech ruined the deal. The investors got offended. He explains that he had no idea his speech was so important. He also learns that the prospective investors did not pay for the party: the money came out of his own investment in the venture. He paid for the 200 Russian models that were hired for the party. Jimmy is shocked. Then the investors realize that Jimmy is serious about his invention. They tell him that they assumed the Ghostr was fake like all of Bob's products. Jimmy's money is not in cash: it's in bitcoins. He learns from the TV news that bitcoin accounts have been hacked in the biggest theft ever. He checks his account and realizes that the balance is zero. He is broke. Then he even finds an exact copy of Ghostr sold by a small electronic shop: someone copied his invention and is already selling it. Jimmy keeps calling Bob but Bob has disappeared. He notices a drone with a camera flying over his head. Then he calls Spesh, who promises to help. Jimmy is now a homeless and penniless foreigner with only one friend, Spesh (not realizing that Spesh, most likely, is the one who stole his invention). Vincent tells Spesh of a new idea: lower the price and market it as a ghost repeller to superstitious peasants. But they don't tell Jimmy. Meanwhile, Spesh, using his connection with the mysterious Johnny Mai Thai, finds Jimmy a way to make a little money as a model for marketing products. The marketing agency only requires that he changes his cowboy look. They dress him up in a white jacket, dye his hair blond and give him sunglassses and a white helmet to shoot a photo for the inauguration of a gold course project. His second job is to move around the city demonstrating a hoverboard, but the owner of the device follows him and is not pleased with his marketing skills, and in any case the hoverboard soon breaks down. The agency doesn't get paid and therefore refuses to pay Jimmy and calls Spesh to complain. Spesh calls Jimmy and yells at him As he walks around the city, Jimmy keeps seeing shops selling his invention. It is even sold in the streets. Jimmy calls Spesh and asks to meet in person with Johnny Mai Thai. Spesh tells him that Johnny lives 2,000 kms north in a brand new giant city that China is building in the desert. Spesh insults him and hangs up. Meanwhile, Jimmy receives a letter that contains a cyanide pill with the US flag. We hear Spesh's philosophizing as he walks around the city: he hates humanity. Jimmy somehow travels to that city, a modern city where nobody lives. He has to walk to downtown because there are no cars and no buses. He cannot get a hotel room because he has no money. In the morning he walks around showing the picture of Johnny Mai Thai to the few people he encounters in the ghost town but nobody can help him. The agent calls him, having learned from Spesh that he is in north China, and offers him a job to sing at a wedding in the countryside, but he can only sing a few lines and he offends again the customer. The agent, furious that he screwed up another contract, tells him to leave the country. Jimmy resumes the search for Johnny Mai Thai and finally finds someone who recognizes the picture. All the high-rise buildings look empty but one actually has people living inside. Jimmy uses a headlight to explore the building and finds Johnny Mai Thai, who calls him "my best friend", and his wife Joanna, who recognizes him, and his cousin Ronny. Johnny's face is disfigured, Joanna sounds neurotic. Johnny and Jimmy remember things about their childhood. Johnny sends him on another mission and Jimmy accepts without even asking if he will make any money. They send him to pick up a camel and lead it to another building, not even knowing what will happen next. Jimmy picks up the camel from a Chinese and gives him his own Ghostr prototype as a tip (it is now worthless since there are copies for sale everywhere). Jimmy has to drag the recalcitrant animal through an arid landscape that soon turns into desert, even though he can see the high-rise buildings of the new city. Exhausted and humiliated, Jimmy gets on his knees and cries. Suddenly a group of Chinese shows up and starts clapping. He smiles, shakes their hands and poses for group pictures. When they live, Jimmy pulls out the cyanide pill and swallows it.
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