Zheng Kaisi (played by Li Yifeng) suffers from some sort of mental delusion which is being activated whenever he feels strong emotions. When activated he sees himself as a clown and all threats around him turn into ferocious monsters. On top of this Zheng is working a job with a low wage and has medical bills he has to pay for his sick mom. As if his life wasn’t bad enough his best friend Li Jun (played by Cao Bingkun) deceives him and turns a real estate deal in to a nightmare where Zheng and Li ends up having a financial debt to a mysterious criminal network runned by the relentless Andersen (played by Michael Douglas). To pay their debt they have to participate in a game, taking place on a boat, where over hundreds of contestants compete against each other by a card game that works exactly like stone, rock and scissor.
At the beginning of the film, before the disappointment kicks in, the framework of how the story is being presented is really interesting, especially how the film mixes in animated segments to convey Zhengs mental state. But, this works more as a nodge towards the films anime predecessor than actually filling a function for the narrative. Another filmic style in the film is it’s use of CGI to show Zhengs superior deduction and mathematical skill. Whenever Zheng is calculating how to win over the system we are shown an animated overview of all cards in play. At first this is intriguing and fresh but after several times I find myself being really irritated by it because the style becomes the content of the film and the content therefore becomes devoid of intriguing material.
The main element of Animal Worlds ethical and moral dilemma is the trust issue. On the boat other “participants” of the game try their best to trick each other because they’re hardly any rules for the game. Zheng learns the bitter way of extending his trust to other people and when you think that he would have become the most cynical person of them all he chooses to believe a complete strangers story and saves him. Zheng becomes the embodiment of misstrusting everybody except those who cherish they’re family.
And Michael Douglas? Well, having him on as an actor was probably more a desperate try to lure more audience than a genuine attempt to have a foreigner in the film doing something else than being the bad guy or being awestruck by Chinese culture.