released about a year after die hard 1, wong jing’s crocodile hunter is quite possibly the world’s first die hard-ish movie. though like most die hard-ish movies, only the final half hour features people trapped in a building. the hour before that is more lethal weapon-ish. so i guess it’s more of a hong kong joel silver tribute.
wong jing, if you’re wondering, is the prolific hong kong filmmaker commonly described as the pusher of cheap and tasteless action/comedy/exploitation movies. though not liked by critics, most of his films are wildly popular. one may be tempted to compare him to michael bay except wong is responsible for classics starring chow yun fat, stephen chow, andy lau, and jet li, which is more classics than bay has, and will have. case in point: wong’s next movie after this one is the seminal god of gamblers.
and he would go on to recreate (and improve upon) the die hard-ish situation with 1993’s city hunter, with jackie chan as john mcclane on a cruise ship, based on a japanese manga; and 1989’s the last blood (horribly remarketed as hard-boiled 2 in some cases), a die-hard-in-singapore which we looked at last year. he also wrote/directed/produced 1995’s die hard-ish high risk aka meltdown starring jet li, no doubt based on his negative experience after working with jackie chan on city hunter.
the i.o.a.s. (inconsequential opening action sequence) of crocodile hunter takes place at a movie theatre, a self-referential satirical element common in hong kong and wong jing movies, before meta became a word being thrown around on message boards by anyone with an internet connection. there are jokes about how dirty the old theater is, and the then newly installed hong kong film rating system (with the triangular symbol of category iii rating, the equivalence of a nc-18 rating). the movie theatre setting is later reused in city hunter, with jackie chan fighting in a movie theatre in front of a screen showing bruce lee’s game of death.
the hero, played by andy lau (infernal affairs, fulltime killer, days of being wild, house of flying daggers, detective dee) is shot in the i.o.a.s. and stays in the hospital for nine months. his medical condition is brought up as we predict it’s something that will come back later in the movie, but it never did. he is itching to go back to work, not because of duty or justice but because he needs the money so he can send his mom to the u.s. for some expensive kidney surgery. lucky for the movie, the most wanted criminals are also the movie’s villains.
the lethal weapon element kicks in when he is teamed up with the less refined detective played by alex man. we know he’s less refined and cultured because his nickname is “bad odor,” and unlike lau, he doesn’t wear glasses. they have kind of a meet-cute when man mistakenly thinks that lau is a rookie when in fact lau is his superior.
unlike the racial opposite in lethal weapon, and hong kong having a more homogenous population, the opposite-buddy-cop relationship is based on class rather than race. in addition to the glasses, man’s character is unable to read english. while lau’s love interest is a celebrity tv host (alvina kong), man’s love interest is a prisoner, the girlfriend of the hacker of the terrorist group, played by sandra ng.
though it doesn’t get die hard-ish until the last half hour, crocodile hunter is nevertheless entertaining pre-die hard-ish. the first hour or so exposition is done better here than most die hard-ish or psuedo die hard-ish movies. it even managed to flash out some of the cardboard character in die hard 1. the nerd hacker here is actually more crucial to the movie that his equivalence in die hard 1. they also up the ante by having the gruber equivalence as a villain for hire. wong also doesn’t shy away from politics and current events by naming one of the villains li pang, the chinese leader at the time of the tiananmen square massacre.
these changes make the movie easier to sit through than your routine die hard-ish movies and give the movie more personality than being a mere direct ripoff. but when it finally reaches its climax, the main course lacks the tension and up-the-hill improbability that make the die hard and die hard-ish movies special. lacking a famed action choreographer, the action are nowhere near the outrageousness of the last blood, god of gamblers, or meltdown. the die hard formula can be adapted into a great hong kong action movie, and wong came close in the following years with the last blood and meltdown. crocodile hunter is more of a passably entertaining hong kong movie that happens to have a die hard-ish climax. i wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve already seen meltdown, the last blood, and city hunter.
crocodile hunter (1989)
the pitch: um…die hard…in a building…eventually
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: i suppose lau’s character is the hero but almost all the main characters end up in the building
the gruber factor: jimmy lung fong, who’s also the lead villain in wong jing’s god of gamblers and casino raiders
the hans objective: in an interesting twist, the hero is going after the bad guys for the reward money, but the bad guys are breaking into the safe for antique, instead of wealth
wrong place at the wrong time: they aren’t really trapped in the building by accident, as mentioned, they follow the bad guys because they are the villains worth the most
the help: they don’t really get help or have moments with the people outside. interestingly, the squad leader on the outside is played by character actor shing fui-on, who’s mostly known as villains in hong kong movies.
the family element: no one’s related to the hostages other than the hacker character. on the other hand, lau’s character is only doing it so he can come up with the money for his mom’s surgery. the bad guys are hired by the younger son of the antique owner but this is resolved pretty quickly
bonfire of the weaponry: guns, chopsticks, and my favorite: a pen. one of the terrorists likes make man’s character strip instead of shooting him. it’s kind of an unique, probably unintentional twist on the talking killer syndrome
last man standing: though lau’s character does most of the work, all the key climatic face offs are pretty evenly divided among the parties
unbearables: the last half hour pretty much recreated key scenes of the first die hard. but before that, lau’s character uses a sharpie to mark on his arm how many bad guys there are; he also tries to tie something around his waist to break into the building except he doesn’t succeed as john mcclane did; one of the villains has long hair who has a one on one with lau; there’s a tech guy with glasses; there’s a cliffhanger scene with one of the villains, except here it involves two supporting characters; there’s also an out of the blue reunion with wife and daughter at the end.
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