I made Crocodile in the Yangtze because I felt I had witnessed an inspiring story and was in a unique position to share it with others. I’d watched as a Chinese company started by an English teacher grew from an apartment to a global company, winning a high profile battle against eBay along the way. And I felt that telling the inside story, in the most candid way possible, about the ups and downs the team encountered would provide a great case study for entrepreneurs or others chasing a dream of their own.
For nearly 10 years, I watched from the inside as the Internet brought China face-to-face with the West. Often, the Internet served as a bridge between China and the outside world, connecting people in a way which was previously impossible. Other times, the Internet served as a lightning rod, attracting conflict and controversies that exposed cultural and political divisions between China and the West. As a westerner working in a Chinese company, I saw these broader themes play out in a very human way and felt it was important to share what I’d learned from the experience.
While my own experience at Alibaba was by and large a positive one, I made every effort to reflect on my experience from a distance and with a critical eye. Yet my goal was not to tell the story from the perspective of a third-party documentarian. Rather, I set out to capture the thoughts and emotions that I personally experienced at the time. Thus, the film is best described as a "docu-memoir," with an emphasis on “memoir.”
With this in mind, it’s important to note that Crocodile in the Yangtze is my own independent production and the opinions in the film are entirely my own. Despite being subjects of the film, Alibaba Group and Jack Ma had no role in the film’s development or content and the film was produced after I’d already left the company. The archival materials from the company that were used in the film were offered to me prior to my departure and with no preconditions.
My film ends in 2009, when my own story at Alibaba came to an end. By that time, Alibaba had grown from a David into a Goliath and was widely regarded as a success story. But it is inevitable when a company grows to a certain scale that it will face new challenges and controversies. And over the last few years, Alibaba has been no exception to this rule.
But I will leave the rest of the Alibaba story to the next person to tell, if there is ever a sequel to Crocodile in the Yangtze. Because in many ways the lessons from Crocodile in the Yangtze are timeless and I hope they can provide valuable insight to entrepreneurs and others who may be setting out on their own journey.
Director, Crocodile in the Yangtze