A former gangster just released from prison finds his loyalties conflicted while working for a corrupt local official in Chen Ta-pu’s quirky romantic crime drama, Grit (鱷魚, èyú). According to a not particularly interested policeman, no one really cares about things like loyalty or morality anymore but like the best of noble gangster heroes, Yu Da-Wei (Kai Ko Chen-tung), otherwise known as Croc because of an incomplete tattoo of a dragon on his back, really does yet his nobility only makes him vulnerable to the machinations of those around him even as he does his best to stand up to thuggish intimidation masquerading as local government.
At 17 years old, Yu was convicted of a gangland murder though it was rumoured at the time that petty gang boss Liu (Lee Kang-sheng) may have orchestrated the hit and set the young man up as a scapegoat promising him riches on release and that the grandfather who raised him would be looked after. Now a local councillor, Liu at least keeps his promise handing over twice the agreed amount of money along with a folder detailing where his grandfather’s ashes have been interred, but is otherwise unsupportive while later reluctantly agreeing to give Yu a job in his office during which he runs in to stubborn farmer Chen (Angelica Lee Sinje) whose father has recently passed away after a drunken accident. Chen has being trying to ring the council for weeks because someone’s cut off the water supply to her rice paddy but no one is willing to help her get it turned back on. Over earnest in his new occupation, Yu throws himself into action but is largely unaware of the vagaries of local politics and the likely reasons behind Miss Chen’s sudden inability to earn her living.
Chen is quick to denigrate local government, complaining that they always turn up for weddings and funerals but when you really need them they’re nowhere to be found. That’s one reason she’s so surprised by Yu’s genuine attempts to help but conversely disappointed when nothing is really done. For his part, Yu is disappointed too because he really thought they were there to serve the people so he rolls up his sleeves and unblocks the irrigation channel himself but thereafter finds himself on the receiving end of the harassment Chen has been facing for months because she refuses to sell her land to developers. Liu is only motivated to help on discovering that the thugs at Chen’s farm may have been sent by a political rival but thereafter resorts to typical gangster tactics. Rather than try to help Chen, he blackmails his way onto the deal and then tells Yu to do whatever it takes to get her off her land so they can all profit as part of a dodgy real estate scam.
An old school gangster, Yu is torn between loyalty to his old boss for whom he’s already been to prison and doing the right thing especially as he begins to bond with Chen as she continues to care for him after he is badly injured by thugs. He naively gives Liu opportunities to change, tries to convince Chen her land’s not worth dying for, and searches for another solution but eventually finds himself hamstrung by the contradictions of the world in which he lives where former gangsters are now in legitimate power and the state continues to behave like a low level street gang. It might be tempting to read a wider political message into Chen’s determination to hang on to her land which as her father was fond of saying is the only thing you can’t import as she alone refuses to give in to intimidation asking why it is they’re telling her to leave when there seems to be no good reason while Yu is eventually pushed towards resistance if only in her defence because of the mutual kindness that has arisen between them, two people otherwise alone in the world.
“We all have our own worth” Liu snarls, but Yu is perhaps beginning to realise his, no longer the naive kid but turning the boss’ weapons back on him willing to sacrifice himself in order to save Chen even if he retains an unrealistic belief that Liu will honour his promises. Quirky in tone and somehow earnest, Chen Ta-pu’s charming crime drama is at once an innocent romance in which a lonely woman and a morally compromised man find love while battling institutional corruption, and a tale of personal redemption as the hero discovers “something more important” than loyalty to an oppressive social system and exploitative mentor.
Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)