Million Dollar Crocodile 百萬巨鰐
Contemporary creature movie
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 87 mins
Directed by Lin Lisheng (林黎勝)
By Derek Elley
Wed, 20 June 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
China's first creature movie is a modest, fun item, with good-quality visual effects. Asian and genre events, plus ancillary.
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 (Lam Suet), to give them a better life. Among the crocodiles is a huge, 8 metre-long female, nicknamed Mao, who weighs 2 tons. In fact, Zhao, who has wanted to buy Mao ever since 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 (Barbie Hsu), who has just returned from eight years working in Italy and has had a row with her two-timing fiance, Zhou Xiaoou (Purba Rgyal). While defending herself, Wen Yan has her bag - which contains her €100,000 (close to 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, Xiaoxing (Ding Jiali), who's always skipping school to go to the crocodile park. When Bald Liu tells Baiji that Mao is heading along a traditional breeding path to lay her eggs, Baiji realises his house is in the way and rushes to rescue them. Wen Yan is still desperate to trap the crocodile and retrieve her life savings before they're digested, and in the meantime 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 林黎勝 — who wrote the TV dramas The Great Time 大時代 (2011) and Borrow Gun 借槍 (2011) but is best known among film buffs for directing the gem-like, rural black comedy A Disappearing Village 消失的村庄 (2010) — makes a considerable career swerve with China's first creature movie, Million Dollar Crocodile 百萬巨鰐. 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 趙順亮, and doesn't pretend to be anything else than what it is — a modest, fun genre item. Strongly cast with a pan-Chinese lineup that includes Taiwan's Barbie HSU 徐熙媛, Mainland comic GUO Tao 郭濤 and Hong Kong's LAM Suet 林雪, it's wisely spent a good chunk of its reported RMB30 million budget (US$4.7 million) on first-rate visual effects, courtesy of Mainland house Fantawild Films Investment Co Ltd 華強方特影業投資有限公司 (Future X-Cops 未來警察 (2010), Inseparable 形影不離 (2011)), which help to suspend disbelief even when the script and dialogue are strictly formulaic.
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, Hsu trashing it up as a money-obsessed local whose foreign life savings have been swallowed by the croc, and Lam 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 王勁松 as an insurance salesman, and Hsu'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 石兆琪, 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 夜驚魂 (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.
At the end, the film sets up a sequel which has already been written by Lin and is on course to go into production, with him directing again.
ContactSales: Odin's Eye Entertainment, Sydney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 8 Jun 2012.
Presented by Beijing Geliang Media (CN), in association with Johnny Film (Shanghai), Shenzhen Huaqiang Holdings. Executive producers: Zhao Shunliang, Zhao Shunzhu, Liu Daoqiang. Producer: Li Rui.
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 Wang), Lam Suet (Big-Mouth Zhao), Shi Zhaoqi (Bald Liu), Xiong Xinxin (Chaozhou Guy), Ding Jiali (Wang Xiaoxing, Beiji's son), Purba Rgyal (Zhou Xiaoou, Wen Yan's fiance), Fang Qingzhuo (Auntie Seven, the teapicker), Wang Jinsong (Wang, the insurance salesman), Li Qinqin (Liu's wife), Hou Chuanguo (police chief), Ren Long (Jiang), Che Jin (Xiao Jie), Huang Yonggang (Superman), Guo Chao (Chaozi), Li Yong (Huang Pi), Chen Xu (Liu's daughter).