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Monster Hunt

It's Wuba! The little radish dude from Monster Hunt.


Year: 2015  
Director: Raman Hui
Producer: Bill Kong, Yee Chung-Man, Doris Tse, Alan Yuen Kam-Lun
Writer: Alan Yuen Kam-Lun
Action: Ku Huen-Chiu

Bai Baihe, Jing Boran, Jiang Wu, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Wallace Chung, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Tang Wei, Yao Chen, Yan Ni, Bao Jianfeng, Wang Yuexin, Guo Xiao-Dong, Li Jingjing, Cindy Tian, Zhang Yuexuan

The Skinny: Family-targeted fantasy flick features cute CGI creatures but also arguably disturbing content that may not sit well with all parents or kids. Monster Hunt became the highest grossing Chinese film in history so apparently the majority of audiences in China were entertained, and indeed the radish-like star Wuba is pretty cute. Unfortunately, the story lacks continuity and a satisfying conclusion, and clearly sets itself up for Monster Hunt 2. OK but likely not up to the standard of director Raman Hui’s Shrek the Third.
by Kozo:

Edko’s live-action fantasy Monster Hunt is brought to you by the director of Shrek the Third, and the safe bet is that it’s nowhere near as good. (Note: I have not seen Shrek the Third.) Given the film’s surfeit of CG, one expects that director and Hong Kong native Raman Hui brought key technical knowhow with him from Hollywood. Bringing some Hollywood writers would have been better, because Monster Hunt really needs help in that department. The film shares similar roots with supernatural period pieces like A Chinese Ghost Story or Painted Skin, but kiddifies the content by adding cute creatures and slapstick comedy. The eye test marks Monster Hunt as an obvious family film, which is great because Hong Kong hasn’t produced notable family fare outside of the McDull animated franchise (China produces plenty of movies for the whole family). Monster Hunt is already the highest-grossing Chinese film ever so apparently the film is a success – yay for everyone involved! The yay from the audience’s perspective is more subdued though, because Monster Hunt is questionably family-friendly and a middling film, to boot.

Monster Hunt takes place in a fantasy ancient China where monsters and humans co-exist. However, monsters have been shunted off to another land after clashes with humans, only to become embattled in their own civil war. The more threatening monsters won that war and now the cuddlier ones are on the run – except they have a “chosen one” in the form of the former Queen’s unborn son, who is destined to put an end to all this monster-on-monster violence. All of the above is expressed through opening narration so if you’re following along via subtitles, you’d better have your reading comprehension skills handy. Through a series of wacky and sometimes funny events that would be considered spoiler-ish, the monster child is born and comes into the care of semi-crippled dope Song Tianyin (Jing Boran). Level-two monster hunter and sassy girl extraordinaire Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) also gets involved and soon she and Tianyin are off to sell the little monster, eventually named Wuba, for cash. As in most movies, our heroes’ plans don’t go as intended.

Supernatural Chinese tales have usually been adapted for the screen using eroticism and horror, but Monster Hunt eschews both. Well, it tries to. Eroticism is out yet horror shines through in the vaguely disturbing scenes of monsters and humans angling to eat one another. The monsters-eating-humans thing isn’t that bothersome because it’s the evil monsters that want human flesh, while the “good” monsters (mainly the Queen’s retainers played by Sandra Ng and Eric Tsang) talk about eating humans but don’t actually go through with it. The humans eating monsters stuff is creeptastic, though; the film’s climax takes place in what’s essentially a charnel house for monsters meant for illegal banquets attended by rich and amoral humans who’d like a taste of monster meat. As the chosen one, Wuba is supposed to be some fine eatin’, and even before humans try to turn him into a delicacy, another fairly cute creature is chopped into monster sashimi courtesy of the master chef (Yao Chen in a cameo). These plot points leave kind of a bad taste. No pun intended.

Discomfort with this dark content will come down to cultural sensibilities, as the film is derived from Chinese folklore and, judging by the box office returns, Chinese audiences weren’t that bothered. However, Western audiences might find the mixture of elements to be disturbing; Wuba (who resembles a chubby white radish) is clearly kid-targeted and yet he’s graphically threatened with boiling, chopping, deep frying and getting his noggin stabbed with a sharp object. Monster Hunt possesses incongruities in tone and content that are hard to fully reconcile, though who knows – maybe kids everywhere are now fully desensitized to violence and horror. For discerning adults, the bigger problem may be the disjointed story and poorly-sketched premise. The opening narration establishes the movie’s world but the script doesn’t support it well. The film basically consists of set pieces of varying quality that don’t add up to a cohesive story, or create anything beyond immediate tension that ends as soon as a scene does. Alan Yuen (Firestorm) is given sole writing credit for Monster Hunt, but one wonders if this wasn’t a screenplay by committee.

Characters are barely developed; most don’t seem engaged in a motivation beyond “save Wuba” or “sell Wuba”, though Tianyin does have vague daddy issues to attend to (yawn). The characters exist to serve the story rather than the story actually serving them. For example, a bad turn of events separates Tianyin from his neighbors and friends, but he doesn’t seem to have any misgivings about leaving behind the only people he’s ever known to accompany a spunky monster hunter on her quest to sell a cute radish creature. Events like these demand responses, but characters seem more preoccupied with getting to the next set piece than reacting emotionally. Also, convenience is pretty much the solution to everything. Some characters are saved from death by pure coincidence, which renders the heroes as apparent incompetents who just get lucky. Some issues could be helped by better editing; speeding up the film would have reduced drag, and cross-cutting during the climax would have added tension and also prevented some characters from disappearing for too long. Another solution: Write a better script.

The star cameos and lead actors help. Bai Baihe shows ample personality even in a one-dimensional role, and Jing Boran makes a fine font of comic embarrassment. Jing gets extra credit because he replaced Kai Ko (who was cut from the film due to his drug scandal), and had to replicate Ko’s exact movements to match pre-existing special effects. In the third lead, little Wuba eventually endears thanks to his toddler-like mannerisms and the evolution of a family unit with Tianyin and Xiaolan. The film finds its best emotions when pushing this dynamic, which is amazing since, besides one large montage, their relationships develop mostly offscreen. Actually, Monster Hunt pretty much ends offscreen because it doesn’t address its established premise (Wuba is the chosen one, remember?) and ends with numerous characters and plotlines in limbo. As a story, Monster Hunt disappoints, but Edko and company don’t want to tell a story – they want to start a franchise, and with Monster Hunt 2 already on the way, they’ve apparently accomplished that goal. Again, yay for them! But less yay for us. (Kozo, 8/2015)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS-HD
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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