I’ve never seen a Taiwanese workplace comedy before so, in a moment of boredom, I decided to check out 2016’s Ace of Sales. The film stars long-legged model Bianca Bai (白歆惠) as its protagonist, a early 30s professional named Sue who loses her corporate job after underpricing a product at NT$1,250 instead of NT$12,500.
Her career prospects devastated, Sue takes a retail sales job inside a Carrefour hypermarket in order to support herself and her timid electrician husband Kai (Lin Na-Dou). At first, she’s horrible at convincing shoppers to buy her wares. However, she inexplicably meets Jack (Na Wei-hsun), an overdramatic gangster who peppers his sentences with English phrases. Jack teaches Sue that ultimately, sales is about putting on a mask and acting — advice that catapults her to success.
Despite her newfound inspiration, Sue must compete with a rival at Carrefour, a middle-aged lady named Mei (Lin Mei-hsiu, who appears in many Taiwanese dramas). After both of them reach their peaks at the hypermarket, they coincidentally decide to join the same TV shopping channel. The rivalry continues as the two are put in front of cameras to convince audiences to buy a diverse (and sometimes bizarre) set of wares via phone order.
One thing to note is that the above explanation of Ace of Sales‘ plot doesn’t cover a hodgepodge of subplots that chug along in its background. The film’s narrative advances in a highly haphazard fashion, with progress occurring either due to one of those subplots crashing into the main story or some other ill-explained twist. At various points, secondary characters like Sue’s husband, gangster Jack, Jack’s gangster minions (played by twins Keelong and Rays Hsu of the Taiwanese comedy group “This Group of People”), Jack’s ex-girlfriend Rose, and Sue’s parents seize control of the movie and leave us viewers puzzled about where the story is going.
Especially near the end, it almost seems like Ace of Sales is also trying to make a social commentary about the inanity of commercialism, but that message is completely lost in a tumultuous sea of plot-jumping. I’m still not quite sure what the movie was trying to “sell”. To me, Ace of Sales metaphorically feels like someone trying to stick the wares of a Carrefour hypermarket into the chaos of a night market. The constituent components (jokes, pretty faces, workplace tropes) are pretty standard and commercialized. While they would do “OK” in a more sleekly organized setting, placing them in a haphazardly organized way just feels horribly off-kilter and inexplicable.
Ace of Sales (銷售奇姬) — Taiwan. Dialog in Mandarin. Directed by Cho Li. First released September 2016. Running time 2hr 9 min. Starring Bianca Bai, Lin Na-Dou, Na Wei-hsun, Lin Mei-hsiu, Keelong Hsu, Rays Hsu, and Jacqueline Zhu.