If the original source story this is based on is true – and I’ve no reason to suppose it isn’t – then it’s great material for the basis of a number of stories and it could go pretty much any direction. Personally, I think it’s a sit-com.
First saw this in The Atlantic, basically for a lot of companies in China, recruiting fake businessmen or having foreigners around in nice suits, gives the company ‘face’ and is a good way to create the image of ‘connection’ that these Chinese companies crave. For the foreign ‘recruits’, the only qualifications are a fair complexion and a dark suit, that and a burning desire to be put up in a swish hotel, be chauffeured around, wined and dined and come out the other side having earned a grand a week for doing sweet fanny adams.
In fact these rent-a-white-guys are so important for some companies that it’s not unusual to keep a couple of them around on contract for a number of months, rolling them out for a week or so every month for some press junket, grand opening or dinner-do where all they have to do is deliver a carefully prepared speech and then stand and smile while confetti is blasted over the stage and fireworks go off above them as they pose for photos with the local mayor. And so we have the basis of many fish-out-of-water stories…
We could go the route of the action/thriller, a down-at-heel guy is offered the chance of some easy money in short order and heads off to China only to be set-up as the fall guy for the murder of a big business owner or politician. He then has to retrace the events leading up to his being hired, following the barest minimum of clues, and track down the people who hired him, leading to a top-level conspiracy which he manages to foil while clearing his name – or not – as the case may be. You could take the option that he saves his skin but has to go into hiding because “..you can’t fight City Hall”, kind of a cross between 1993’s Dave and Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.
You could also approach it from the perspective of a case of mistaken identity. Our guy, despite being the rent-a-white-guy, is mistaken for the real deal and ends up being chased by bad guys from another corporation or a government agency or similar and he has to evade capture, imprisonment, torture or worse, while convincing these people that he isn’t what they think he is, he’s just a poor schmoe who got sucked into something he wasn’t expecting. Of course as he evades his pursuers and proves to be a smart cookie, all he does is feed the flames of that mistaken identity because no-one that smart isn’t involved….a nice catch 22 for our man. Once again, take a look at a Hitchcock film, in this case North By Northwest or, for a more comedic slant on the idea, try 1997’s The Man Who Knew Too Little with Bill Murray or Tom Hanks in The Man With One Red Shoe.
If we are deciding to write comedy instead of thriller then this is fertile ground that provides rich pickings. The case of mistaken identity could see two guys going to China for new jobs, one is eminently qualified for a very senior position and the other is our rent-a-white-guy. Some mix-up sees them get into the wrong cars at the airport and they end up in each others jobs. At first, Guy A thinks things are great, lots of perks, chauffeur driven car, nice meals, good office and not much work to do so he thinks they’re ‘easing him into it’. Guy B on the other hand, finds himself thrown in at the deep end of an aggressive corporate take over, totally out of his depth and needing to find a solution to the problem to save the company and the jobs of the thousands of folk who work there. I like the idea of reaching the end of the movie with Guy A happy to have left the high-pressure environment behind and revelling in his new slacker lifestyle while Guy B has embraced a new found success as a corporate man and is heading up the company he helped to save. As I sit here writing this I’m thinking The Prince And The Pauper meets Volunteers.
As a final suggestion I think this would make a great TV series. Our guy heads off to China – the archetype fish-out-of-water – to be the rent-a-white-guy for a couple of weeks and it turns out that actually the young Chinese executive that’s supposed to be running things doesn’t have a clue. Our slacker, with a slightly dodgy background and some experience of hustling for a living ends up helping him to turn around a bad situation and thus ends up staying for longer because the company – in the shape of our executive – decides they need him around. Cue weekly episodes of bizarre, comedic East-meets-West clash of culture shenanigans and laughs all around.
So, a simple idea, one that’s grounded in reality but with lots of story potential – good writing. Cheers!