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Still in "Million Dollar Crocodile."[Photo:douban.com]
Contemporary creature movie
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 87 mins
Directed by Lin Lisheng
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 — who wrote the TV dramas The Great Time (2011) and Borrow Gun (2011) but is best known among film buffs for directing the gem-like, rural black comedy A Disappearing Village (2010) — makes a considerable career swerve with China's first creature movie, Million Dollar Crocodile. 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, 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, Mainland comic GUO Tao and Hong Kong's LAM Suet, 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 (Future X-Cops (2010), Inseparable), 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 as a teapicker and WANG Jinsong 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, 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 (The Frightening Night) does the job without being over-pretty, though the score by DONG Dongdong is weak. The main titles, sketching the creature's origins in Thailand, feature some interesting, sketch-like animation.
Source: Film Business Asia
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