Million Dollar Crocodile
China, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 87 mins.
Director: Lin Lisheng 林黎胜.
China’s first creature movie is a modest, fun item, with good-quality visual effects.
Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 30 Jun 2011. Bald Liu (Shi Zhaoqi), owner of a rundown crocodile park, has arranged to sell the reptiles to a crooked businessman, Big-Mouth Zhao (Lin Xue), to give them a better life. Among the crocodiles is a huge, eight-metre-long female, nicknamed Mao, who weighs two tons. In fact, Big-Mouth Zhao, who has wanted to buy Mao ever since Bald Liu trumped him at a black market in Guangdong province 11 years earlier, intends to kill the reptiles to supply his illegal wild-game restaurant. When they arrive, Mao escapes being slaughtered and chases after a woman, Wen Yan (Xu Xiyuan), who has just returned from eight years working in Italy and has had a row with her two-timing fiance, Zhou Xiao’ou (Purba Rgyal). While defending herself, Wen Yan has her bag – which contains her €100,000 (almost RMB1 million) savings and mobile phone – swallowed by Mao. She alerts a junior local policeman, Wang Beiji (Guo Tao), known by his friends as Useless Wang, who initially doesn’t believe her. Eventually, however, he takes her back to his home and tells her to look after his young son, Wang Xiaoxing (Ding Jiali), who’s always skipping school to go to the crocodile park. When Bald Liu tells Wang Beiji that Mao is heading along a traditional breeding path to lay her eggs, Wang Beiji realises his house is in the way and rushes to rescue Wen Yan and his son. Wen Yan is still desperate to trap the crocodile and retrieve her life savings before they’re digested, and in the meantime Big-Mouth Zhao has also learned about the money inside the reptile. Next day, all parties, plus a police force, search for the “million yuan” crocodile, which is now heading for Hangzhou’s West Lake beauty spot.
Early 40s scriptwriter Lin Lisheng 林黎胜 – who wrote the TV dramas The Great Time 大时代 (2011) and Borrow Gun 借枪 (2011) but is best known among film buffs for directing the gem-like, rural black comedy A Disappearing Village 消失的村庄 (2011) – makes a considerable career swerve with China’s first creature movie, Million Dollar Crocodile 百万巨鳄. A comedy-drama about a massive croc on the loose with the equivalent of RMB1 million in its belly, the film was the brainchild of Lin and producer Zhao Shunliang 赵顺亮, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else than what it is – a modest, fun genre item. Strongly cast with a Greater China line-up that includes Taiwan’s Xu Xiyuan 徐熙媛 [Barbie Hsu], Mainland comic Guo Tao 郭涛 and Hong Kong’s Lin Xue 林雪 [Lam Suet], it’s wisely spent a good chunk of its reported RMB30 million budget on first-rate visual effects, courtesy of Mainland house Fantawild Films (Future X-Cops 未来警察, 2010; Inseparable 形影不离, 2011), which help to suspend disbelief even when the script and dialogue are strictly formulary.
The film plays it for laughs and thrills rather than gory horror, with Guo in his trademark blank-faced mode as a useless country cop, Xu trashing it up as a money-obsessed local whose foreign life savings have been swallowed by the croc, and Lin hamming it up as a corrupt wild-game restaurateur. Some of the comedy is too local for international audiences, especially cameos by Fang Qingzhuo 方青卓 as a teapicker and Wang Jinsong 王劲松 as an insurance salesman, and Xu’s hysteria in the first half (“My Euros! My Euros!”) is over-done. But even though the dialogue is strictly utilitarian, the script nicely spends time letting the audience become familiar with its large cast of characters – one of whom, a croc expert taciturnly played by veteran hard guy Shi Zhaoqi 石兆棋, has a whole Beijing backstory that seems to have been edited out at some stage.
Croc action is explosive and fairly brief when it comes, and the reptile is thankfully not given any Hollywood-style “human” emotions to work the audience’s tear-ducts: retrieving the money inside its belly is the important thing here, not “saving” the creature. Widescreen photography of the Zhejiang locations by Li Xi 李希 (The Frightening Night 夜惊魂, 2011) does the job without being over-pretty, though the score by Dong Dongdong 董冬冬 is weak. The main titles, sketching the creature’s origins in Thailand, feature some interesting, sketch-like animation.
Presented by Beijing Geliang Media (CN).
Script: Lin Lisheng, Ma Hua, Ma Yu. Photography: Li Xi. Editing: Zhou Xinxia, Wei Nan. Music: Dong Dongdong. Art direction: An Bin. Sound: Huang Xun. Action: Xiong Xinxin. Visual effects: Gao Yuan (Fantawild Films).
Cast: Barbie Hsu (Wen Yan), Guo Tao (Wang Beiji/Useless), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (Zhao Dazui/Big-Mouth Zhao), Shi Zhaoqi (Guangtou Liu/Bald Liu), Xiong Xinxin (Chaozhou Guy), Ding Jiali (Wang Xiaoxing, Beiji’s son), Purba Rgyal (Zhou Xiao’ou, Wen Yan’s fiance), Fang Qingzhuo (Auntie Seven, teapicker), Wang Jinsong (Wang, insurance salesman), Li Qinqin (Bald Liu’s wife), Hou Chuangao (police chief), Ren Long (Jiang), Che Jin (Xiaojie), Huang Yonggang (Superman), Guo Chao (Chaozi), Li Yong (Huang Pi), Chen Xu (Bald Liu’s daughter).
Release: China, 8 Jun 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 20 Jun 2012.)