Crocodile Island (2020) Review

Crocodile Island (2020) Review

Crocodile Island | DVD (Well Go USA)

Director: Simon Zhao
Co-director: Xu Shixing
Cast: Gallen Lo, Hu Xueer, Liao Yinyue, Wang BingXiang, He Qiwei, Dang Wei, Zhao Zuo
Running Time: 86 min.

By Will McGuire

Crocodile Island is a bad film, but it is a film that’s worth talking about because the question of why it is bad is so instructive to problems in Chinese genre cinema right now.

First of all, the film is a throwback to one of the worst commercial impulses in Asian cinema: the straight copy of a successful American film. In this case, the film is derivative to the point of plagiarism of 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. It’s an almost beat for beat replica of the first act of Edgar Wallace’s original tale about an isolated Pacific island which has grown giant monsters, only the monkey has been replaced by the titular Croc.

In the last fifteen years, the Chinese popular cinema has been increasingly preoccupied with replicating Western spectacle event films. Now, when this is done with care and skill, such as The Wandering Earth, you can see images being created that speak to incredible craft behind the camera. Crocodile Island is nowhere near that scale of time and budget and so it’s trying to replicate the awe of giant monsters with production values that vary between “almost charming” (as in the case of the bone spiders), and completely ridiculous (as in the title monster).

Now we’re all fans of Asian cinema here, and so complaining about production values might seem like a faux pas. After all, we’re the kind of people who hunt down obscure Taiwan kung fu films that were made on a shoestring and barely had money for period costumes. However, the draw in those movies was the physical excellence of the fighters. The draw here are the giant monsters, and if I cannot accept them as real, I cannot feel anything for the characters and there are no emotional stakes. Without emotional stakes, the film has no real value except camp appeal.

What makes this really infuriating is that directors Simon Zhao (in his debut outing) and Xu Shixing (a veteran of these films) have some good ideas for staging action/adventure sequences. I think the bone spider sequence about thirty minutes in gets almost to the point of real credibility as the creatures slice through the makeshift shelter Gallen Lo’s character is taking refuge in. Then a minor character is “impaled” with a digital effect that is so shocking in its shoddiness that you’re instantly pulled out of what you’re watching and into the realm of SyFy Channel Originals like Sharknado. How can you feel anything for characters if you can never suspend your disbelief?

Hu Xue’er, who plays the film’s female lead and who I recognize from the Detective Dee film she appeared in last year makes a game attempt to replicate the kind of ditzy awe of the women in peril in 1930’s adventure films and have fun with it. Even her performance, which is delivered with a knowing wink, is undercut by her and the characters around her behaving in insane and dangerous ways without motivation. It doesn’t come across as “good filmmakers having fun”, it comes across as a bad film rushing to get to the next effects shot because it’s under the impression that those are the only goods it has to deliver.

Avoid this film, unless you have a taste for campy “so bad it’s good” monster films. It just doesn’t have anything to offer that you can’t find in higher quality elsewhere.

Will McGuire’s Rating: 3/10