It seems I do have a masochistic streak at times, certainly in terms of my movie watching habits. How else can I explain the fact that I actually chose to watch a movie that I just knew was going to be pretty bad, despite the fact I have a heap of much better unwatched ones? But then again, I do like a creature feature, and this is being marketed as mainland China’s very first film of that ilk. Being a Mainland film, I was pretty sure it was going to be somewhat anodyne, but as it is also a comedy, maybe I could find a chuckle or two?
In “Million Dollar Crocodile”, unscrupulous wild game restaurant owner Zhao (Lam Suet) buys a number of Crocodiles from a run down Croc farm run by Liu (Shi Zhaoqi). Among the reptiles is a massive 8 metre female called Amao, which Zhao is especially happy to get because he missed out on purchasing her 20 years ago. However, whilst his gang are attempting to butcher her, she escapes into the countryside. First to encounter her is Wen Yan (Barbie Hsu), recently returned from 8 years working in Italy. Wen Yan escapes physically unscathed, but her 8 years of saved Euros (equating to about RMB1,000,000) is swallowed along with her Mobile Phone by the giant beast. She approaches a local Policeman, “Useless” Wang (Guo Tao), to help her, but he is initially sceptical. Luckily he is shown enough proof to get the wider police force interested, but when they prove unable to capture Amao, and the news of the money in her tummy gets out, Wang enlists the help of Liu to capture the Crocodile. Problem is, Wen Yan has her own plans, which places both her and Wang’s young son (who loves the Crocodiles and thinks Amao is his friend) in a fair bit of peril. Can our Reptilian monstrosity be stopped in time? And will Wen Yan get her money back? Or will she find something else as part of her journey?
I’ll be honest, I really expected very little from this film, so I can’t really complain when I start to describe everything that was bad about it. There have been a couple of really good Korean entries into this genre (“The Host”, “Chaw”), but being a Mainland film, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get anything that either excelled in the Horror/Gore stakes, or even any kind of social commentary. Certainly not a film that might have a subtext about how poorly these animals are treated in Asia. In that respect it didn’t disappoint.
In the interests of a little fairness, there are some good points. The CGI is actually very good, Amao is well realised, and is integrated well with the live action. If you are a fan of the laconic style of Guo Tao you might find his character interesting. Best of all is the title sequence displaying Amao’s original capture via some lovely little paintings.
That’s pretty much it for the good though. It’s biggest failing is not having the courage of it’s convictions – despite plenty of characters that are deserving of it, only one actually gets chomped by Amao. Sadly this isn’t Barbie Hsu, who wins this years award for most annoying character in a film. She spends 70% of the film jumping around screaming “My Euro’s” and “Giant Crocodile”. When she actually does calm down, she just reverts to being really dumb. And she learns nothing about her greed, even when she possibly discovers some kind of romance at the film’s conclusion. Not only that, but she seems to not know the difference between having money in a Bank Account (where she would earn interest) and having a Credit Card (where she would pay for the privilege). Lam Suet chews up the scenery a little, and provides the most scary sight with his bloated stomach on full display.
Then there are the strange little subplots which are simply not explored. Liu seems to have been a quite successful entertainer with his crocodiles in the past, but this is only hinted at via exposition, and his little visit back home to Beijing shows nothing more than an annoyed wife and a caring daughter that offer nothing to the main narrative. Then we have the strange connection between Barbie’s 8 years in Italy and the fact Wang’s wife ran off to Italy. Why she went no one explains, and what the point of making them both have gone there is a great unanswered question. Even the link between Liu and Zhao shown in the opening credits fails to come to anything, when this could have added some dramatic tension.
It also has one of the worst scores for a film I have heard in a long time. If screeching rock guitars are your thing, you might enjoy it, but I have no idea why it alternates with a love theme at non-relevant moments.
The sad thing is, that it does have humorous moments, and the score aside, it is put together competently. It just fails to be scary, fails to develop any of the sub plots which could have been interesting, fails to say anything other than “Crocodile on the loose!!” (or “Save the Money!!”). Is it as bad as a cheap made-for-TV movie that might get shown on some poor Satellite/Cable Channel? Nope. But that is part of the problem – it is too mediocre to even be a fun camp romp. And the little coda at the end of the film? It isn’t just hackneyed, but makes no sense biologically, and frankly is there to point to a sequel that we must all prey never comes to light. Avoid.