Monster of the Deep (2023)

Rating: C

Dir: Ying-xiang Wu
Star: Zi-ming He, Bo-yu Zhang, Mu-Yun Li, Hao-Ning Tiang

If you thought, “Well, the Aliens franchise was okay, but it needed tentacles and a diamond heist,” we have a movie for you. Rather than outer space, it takes place on a ship in the middle of the Pacific. A group of robbers board it, intending to steal a precious gem which is part of the cargo (rather than the more logical air courier method) The ship is creepily deserted, for reasons explained in a prologue. A weird creature is fished out of the ocean, and is about to be eaten by a crew member for a bet(!), when it decides to do the eating instead. By the time the criminals arrive, the only survivors are a small child, Newt sorry, Jun (Tiang) and his sister, Mei (Li). And the latter appears now to have had her DNA mixed with the creature’s.

This begins sprightly and amusingly enough. We see the kraken-like beast attacking and sinking a vessel, accompanied by a jaunty surf-punk song. There’s even a gratuitous shower scene, albeit a tasteful one. We then see how hero and general nice guy Zhang (He) ends up on the robbery team. Short version? He needs funds to pay for his sick daughter’s medical treatment, and his shady brother-in-law talks him into it. Bonus pathos points are awarded because his wife was killed in a car-crash. Zhang is an explosives expert: three guesses as to whether this might end up being significant, in terms of battling the monster.

The problems occur once the film is forced to do anything with these elements. Parts are obviously cribbed from Ridley Scott’s franchise, such as the way it incubates inside its victims. Other elements just don’t make much sense. The tentacles seem almost infinite in length, being capable of going anywhere on the ship. They also have mouths. And they roar. This is not how tentacles work, as far as I’m aware. In contrast to something like Aliens, there is no real sense of development or escalation. Things like using people as its host are introduced, then barely mentioned again. There’s a weird final caption (before an end-credit song sounding like the theme to a Chinese James Bond film) which in part assures us, “The bodies on the stricken ship were properly dealt with.” So that’s nice.

The same goes with Mei now being a human-kraken hybrid. Established early (even if, once more, an idea borrowed from Alien 3), it is then forgotten about, until suddenly being remembered, right at the end. This leads to an ending which causes whiplash, swinging from heroic to grim before settling, thanks to that caption, on “Eh?” For why bother showing us something, when you can simply write it on screen? Maybe next time, they could save even more money, and just have the writer hold up pages of the script in front of the camera. Nice ideas here: just a shame about their execution.

This review is part of our feature, When Chinese Animals Attack.