The Beast in the River (2023) Review
Despite coming out seventeen years ago, the influence of Bong Joon Ho’s The Host is still being felt. Earlier this year we had the Thai film The Lake, and now the Chinese offer their take on it, The Beast in the River (河兽). Can it measure up to the original? Or at least be less of a disappointment than The Lake?
In the early days of The Republic of China, something in the river is killing the people of Tianjin. In the prologue, we see a couple making out on a boat only to be interrupted by a dead body hitting the vessel. That’s followed by what looks like a tentacle pulling the woman into the river. An attempt the next day to banish it via traditional rituals proves fruitless as well, leaving the townsfolk even more fearful than they were before.
As this is happening the widowed Gu Zhiyuan (Lin Youwei, Mojin: Dragon Ridge Shrine, Kung Fu Man) is doing his best to raise his daughter Linglong (Wang Tingwen, Sniper, Dr. Cutie). This doesn’t sit well with Tang Xiaowei (Hong Siyang, Deadly Parasite, A Legendary Love of China), the girl’s wealthy aunt, who demands he give her custody of the girl. She says if something bad happens to Linglong she’ll never forgive him, which is rather funny considering she clearly hates him already.
As you can guess it doesn’t take long for something bad to happen. Tang Xiaowei’s article in the local paper about the creature has scared the dockworkers so badly that they refused to work. This interferes with local boss-man Kun’s (Gao Shaowei, Mr. Pride vs. Miss Prejudice, Heartfall Arises) operations. To appease him, Sheriff Hu (Wang Zhipeng, Town of Ghosts, Mr.Zombie) fires cannons into the river which only pisses the creature off causing it to attack the town and take Linglong with it when it returns to its lair.
All of that happens in the first half hour, which is the first half of The Beast in the River as it only runs sixty-eight minutes. And it’s a fairly fast paced half hour with plenty of scenes of the creature running around and killing a few people. Due to the budget, there are only a few scenes of destruction however they are fairly well done.
The second half manages to pack a fair amount in as well. Of course, the two adults put their differences aside to try and rescue Linglong. But they’ll have to deal with not just the creature but a mad scientist, mobsters and corrupt cops. There’s even a big gunfight between factions in the sewers where the creature is hiding to add to the action.
While The Beast in the River isn’t in the same league as The Host, director Zhang Wei (Factory Boss, Ballad From Tibet) and writers Wu Weijuan and Zhu Zifadeliver a film than The Lake despite a considerably lower budget. It doesn’t let itself get bogged down in dialogue trying to make an hour’s worth of story last for ninety minutes and is better off for it. I wouldn’t have complained if they had added more of the fights we see in the film’s first half or a bit more background on the scientist and his experiments. But it’s good enough as is for what it is.
Good enough for what it is also works as a description of The Beast in the River’s effects. The creature design, while obviously inspired by The Host, has enough differences that it isn’t a total ripoff and actually looks like something Ray Harryhausen might have animated in the 60s. Of course the filmmakers used CGI rather than stop motion for their creature, and the results are better than usual for a Chinese direct to streaming film. The computer-generated blood spray during the gunfight is, like most digital blood, subpar.
If you like monster movies and don’t mind subtitles, The Beast in the River is a fast paced, fun choice for an afternoon’s entertainment. And stick around for a post credit scene that resolves the rather ambiguous ending.
Since The Beast in the River is currently available as a free watch on Youku’s YouTube channel, you don’t have much to lose checking it out.