Friday, December 16, 2022

Lion vs the Little People—It Never Uses the “M” Word

This is the sort of film that makes you wonder what kid of elevator pitch the filmmakers developed. Basically, it is a mockumentary creating the fictional backstory of a semi-real internet hoax. It probably sounds exploitative, but it tries to make all the right points about representation and agency of little people. How well that works is debatable throughout screenwriter-director Raphael Warner’s Lion vs the Little People, which is now available on VOD.

At the end of
Lion, the closing titles admit the expose the audience just watched is fictional, but they maintain the pretense up to that point. Apparently, a phony BBC news item really did go viral claiming 42 little people were killed in a mysterious battle with a lion. Technically, it used the “M” word, which Warner always scrupulously bleeps. The story (and it is a story) goes a dodgy FOB cardboard magnate named Larry Vincent Ross created an underground little people fight circuit in Macau, in partnership with a Chinese gangster with high-ranking CCP connections. That part is pretty believable, especially the photoshopped pictures of him with Bill Clinton. The TV ads he supposedly cut for his ill-fated chain of dojos are less credible.

When the illegal fight circuit took off, Ross and his associates escalated the action, pitting his little people fighters against animals. Inevitably, things got a little too hot, so they decided to cash-out with a big finale, but they had to lure legit little actors from Hollywood for their battle royale against a lion.

Let me repeat: I am not making this up—but Warner is. The film goes out of its way to use the right terms and criticize stereotypes, but the fundamental premise is just about the most exploitative thing you could imagine—and that is inevitably (if maybe unintentionally) reflected in the one-sheet.

Yet, it has to be stipulated this is a work of great chutzpah from Warner. Seriously, you have to wonder how he pitched this film. Somehow, he even managed to recruit Linda Thorson (fondly remembered as Tara King, Emma Peel’s successor on
The Avengers) to play Gayle Bennet, the Hollywood casting director duped by Ross.

George Appleby and Leigh Gill bring a lot of dignity to the film portraying the two survivors of the lion cage-match, but the smarminess of the true crime recreations works against the tone they set. (Incidentally, Gill’s character is far too young to have had a call-back for
Time Bandits in 1982, but Warner probably wanted to name-drop Gilliam’s film.)

This does seem to be well-intentioned, but it just doesn’t work. Of course, Warner is also on solid ground when he casts a heavy-hitting Clinton donor and the Chinese Communist Party as his villains. It also totally tracks when Interpol botches and covers-up the case. Still, a majority of viewers will probably be baffled by its flawed messaging. Not recommended,
Lion vs the Little People is now available on VOD.