What a croc

In New Column by John Tebbutt

China’s first monster movie is stupid.

You need to keep your expectations low with a movie like Croczilla (2012). Promoting it as China’s first ever monster film just raises the stakes too much. Hong Kong has been creating insane monsters for ages (1975’s Infra-Man; 1976’s The Oily Maniac). South Korea gave us The Host (2006). Japan practically invented the giant monster movie. C’mon, China, whatcha got?

Apparently, what China’s “got” is this laughable mess. Originally released as Million Dollar Crocodile, things get off to a promising start with a montage of watercolour images of crocodile poaching. It’s like an artsy comic book. From there, things go astray as Croczilla tries for comedy, suspense and pathos simultaneously. The smuggled crocodile from the credit sequence now belongs to a noble crocodile tamer, who refuses to sell the beast to a gang of cackling meat vendors. Instead, he keeps the croc (named “Amao”) at his run-down sanctuary, until financial circumstances force him to sell her. This doesn’t sit well with his grandson, a 10-year-old boy who has supposedly befriended Amao. Anyways, the creature winds up in the hands of the comedy-relief gangsters from the meat market, who prepare to butcher Amao for their restaurant. Amao decides to escape instead, leaving a large hole in the fence as she scampers into the countryside.

…and the elements blend about as well as Skittles and motor oil.
Far from the “Croczilla” of the title, Amao is a realistically large croc, not much bigger than a pickup truck. So, are the filmmakers trying for more of a Jaws vibe here? Yes, but they’re also trying for non-stop slapstick comedy, and heart-wrenching Old Yeller drama, and the elements blend about as well as Skittles and motor oil.

Meanwhile, our female lead turns up, tooling down the road in a car driven by her boyfriend. She’s just returned from Italy, and is shocked to find a pair of strange panties in her boyfriend’s glove compartment. Furious, she demands to be let out of the car, and winds up in the middle of nowhere. While schlepping through a tea field, the big crocodile jumps out of the foliage, and swallows the lady’s purse, containing her life savings. Still clutching the straps from her swallowed bag, she runs to the police, demanding that someone hunt the beast down and retrieve her 100,000 euros. She shrieks these demands for a goodly portion of the movie.

The policeman she finds happens to be the son of the crocodile tamer, and the father of the young boy. Thus, the grandfather/father/child team sets out to halt the beast’s rampage, which isn’t so much a rampage as it is a stroll.

I’m okay with the fact that this monster movie doesn’t have much of a body count. I also kind of like the fact the heroine keeps hanging on to her dangling purse straps for so long, like she’s reluctant to let go of the last reminder of her vanished wealth. And I’m fine with the fact that two of the three heroes would prefer to capture the monster alive. It’s just that Croczilla is trying to balance three different movie styles here, and can’t even manage to get one right. The comedy isn’t funny, the suspense is middling, and the tragedy is unmoving. Oddly enough though, none of this is boring.

Croczilla can only be watched with a mocking eye, but at least you don’t yearn for it to end, as with so many other cheap monster flicks. I’m looking at you, Dinoshark (2010). The lousy English dubbing provides a few laughs, and with the right audience, there’s fun to be had here.