Date
17 December 2017
A documentary on Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma is drawing much attention ahead of the Chinese internet giant's New York IPO. Photo: Bloomberg
A documentary on Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma is drawing much attention ahead of the Chinese internet giant's New York IPO. Photo: Bloomberg

Crocodile in the Yangtze: Taking a bite of the Alibaba saga

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

As Alibaba Group prepares to launch what could potentially be the biggest-ever technology IPO in history, a documentary has been released on the Chinese e-commerce giant’s founder Jack Ma and his incredible journey to the top in the industry. 

“Crocodile in the Yangtze” tells the story of how Ma, a former English teacher who flunked his college entrance exam twice, started Alibaba in a small apartment with 17 friends in 1999 and scaled it up rapidly to the Internet titan that we know today.

Drawing on 200 hours of archival footage from nearly three dozen sources, the film was made by a former American manager named Porter Erisman, who used his inside knowledge to tell a great tale.

The film’s title is based on something that Erisman, who is said to have worked directly with Ma for more than eight years before leaving the company in 2009, recalls the Alibaba founder as saying when the firm was fighting US giant eBay for dominance in China’s e-commerce market.

“EBay is a shark in the ocean. We are a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we will lose. But if we fight in the river, we will win,” Ma is said to have remarked.

The 75-minute film goes beyond the usual business documentary, opening with a scene in which Ma, dressed as a punk rocker, takes the stage at a 2009 company event to the opening theme from “The Lion King”, the Wall Street Journal noted. 

Now, what does Ma think of the film?

After the film was first ready in April 2012, Erisman says he saw a missed call on his phone one day from his former boss and began to worry.

But when he returned the call, Erisman –to his delight — found Ma offering an invitation to show the film to employees of Taobao — Alibaba’s retail marketplace — at its 10th anniversary. 

That points to Ma’s clear approval.

Erisman says he has been talking about his film for the last two years, but it is only recently that people have really started to listen.

The interest is obviously due to Alibaba’s upcoming New York IPO. Though a colossus in China, most Americans know little about the Chinese internet group. The documentary, though slightly hagiographic, provides some answers.

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RC

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