“Million Dollar Crocodile” is a genuine cinematic milestone, marking China’s first proper foray into the CGI creature feature genre. As the title suggests, director Lin Li Sheng’s film follows the exploits and adventures of an oversized crocodile who goes on a mild rampage around a small countryside town, while Taiwanese starlet Barbie Hsu (“Bodyguards and Assassins”), popular Mainland actor Guo Tao (“Crazy Stone”) and reliable Hong Kong character veteran and Johnnie To regular Lam Suet all try to stay one step ahead of its jaws.
The fun kicks off following a young boy called Xiao Xing, whose best friend just happens to be Amao, a giant 36 foot crocodile kept in a sanctuary run by Bald Liu (Shi Zhaoqi, “The Message”). Unfortunately, Liu is forced to sell the crocodiles to sleazy businessman Zhao Da Zui (Lam Suet), who plans to use to poor animals for luxury meat dishes. Amao manages to escape, and flees off into the countryside, where he crosses paths with Barbie Hsu, who has been dumped in the middle of nowhere by her no-good fiancé, and eats her handbag containing 100,000 Euros and her mobile phone. Desperate to get her money back, she teams with Xiao Xing’s father (Guo Tao) to track down the croc, with other locals and Zhao Da Zui joining in the hunt.
It’s clear right from the start that “Million Dollar Crocodile” is a comedy thriller rather than a straight monster on the loose creature feature, and one which is aiming for all-ages, mass appeal. The film is actually closer to a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World” style treasure hunt caper than the kind of horror schlock suggested by the trailers and posters, with a cast of loud and silly characters trying to get their hands on poor Amao. Although there are some action set pieces along the way and a body count of sorts, there are only a handful of vague attempts at jump scares and (unsurprisingly) no blood or much in the way of spectacular attack scenes, the crocodile spending much of the running time fleeing. There’s very little sense of danger or threat, with Amao being an oddly humanised and sympathetic creature, especially compared to the materialistic and conniving people who are after him.
There’s a definite emphasis on humour, most of it scattershot and lowbrow, though with adjusted expectations, and for those who enjoy wacky Chinese comedy, this is all still pretty entertaining and amiable. The cast are all on game form, and while Barbie Hsu’s shrill shrieking and face pulling grates after a while, Guo Tao is likeable as ever, and it’s always good to see Law Suet getting the chance to chew the scenery. Even the kiddie-friendly and family-oriented elements aren’t too unpalatable or saccharine, mainly since the film never pretends to be anything other than a light hearted slice of zany fun.
It helps that the film is reasonably well made, and though unambitious, is far more coherent than most other recent Mainland China attempts at genre cinema, presumably due to the censors finding the giant crocodile premise far less controversial than anything involving gangsters or the supernatural. Lin Li Sheng does a perfectly serviceable job in the director’s chair, and though the film’s pacing is a bit variable, getting bogged down by melodrama in a few instances, whenever Amao is involved things inevitably pick up. The special effects are similarly of a decent standard and are for the most part better than expected, the CGI being well above the SyFy or direct to DVD standard, and comparable to that seen in bigger budgeted and more prestigious Chinese releases. The film as a whole has a bright and colourful look, which fits well with its overall feel, and there’s a definite silly cheerfulness to the proceedings throughout.
Though this again takes “Million Dollar Crocodile” further from the carnage and full-on killer croc rampage that might have been hoped for, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable, and at just an hour and twenty minutes, short bit of nonsense. Without wishing to make it sound particularly special or terribly worthwhile, it’s good to see China churning out a solid piece of genre fare, and one which should go down well enough with anyone wanting to see the usual shenanigans in a different language.
Lin Lisheng (director)
CAST: Barbie Hsu