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    Monster Hunt (2016): Movie Review

    "Visually arresting despite its too muddled mythology.” 

    A cute and cuddly non-human being is the star of China’s smash animated hit Monster Hunt. Hong Kong-born animation expert Raman Hui takes the directorial seat to bring us a wildly funny and heartily warming fantasy story of love, acceptance and loyalty. 

    The film begins with a prologue about an ancient Earth inhabited by greenish radish-looking, dragon-like monsters. However, humanity waged a war and drove them into the mountains. Soon, a civil war erupted among the monsters and the king got killed while her pregnant queen sought refuge in the land of the humans with her guardians Zhugao (Eric Tsang) and Pangying (Sandra Ng).

    The queen finds herself in Yongying, a rural village under the supervision of mayor Song Tianyin (Jing Boran), a simple-minded peasant who loves to cook and sew and who, according to his grandma (Elaine Jin), is a descendant of a distinguished line of monster hunters. She begs Tianyin for help and before she breathes her last, she impregnates his stomach with her fetus. A green monster hunter named Xiaonan (Bai Baihe) helps Song with his plight but her rival hunter, Luo Gang (Jiang Wu), complicates matters. Worse, defunct monster-hunt bureau chief Ge Qianhu (Wallace Chung) puts up a handsome bounty for the unborn monster heir. 

    Monster Hunt is an exercise exhibiting Hui’s mastery in creating delightful animated entertainment. Shrek and Madagascar attest to his genius. However, the present film is not fully animated as the monster characters are actually blended into live-action sequences. The fusion is top-caliber as the interaction between the human actors and the fictional elements is clean and faultless. Even when the scenes involved intense motions (the kung fu actions are expectedly exhilarating by the way), the visual effects remain realistically impressive. 

    However, the film is just a feast to the eyes and not to the mind. Its story arc is too crude and bare, lacking any depth or historical, nationalistic and personal relevance. It is too basic that its lessons of morality do not even register a strong impact. Its story is obviously tailored to very (very) young children but its nature speaks otherwise as many scenes are a touch violent for its target demographics. The kitchen scene where the head chief illustrates different ways to slaughter and serve the monsters as dish (yes, humans eat these radish monsters!) is just indigestible, even to the adult minds. 

    Though simplistic, its plot is messy and unpolished, containing confusing details, unnecessary characters and logical lapses. It is too busy building its fantasy realm, unceasingly adding new elements and specifications but without any intelligible explanation or they do not cohere with one another. Like when Tianyin is implanted with a supernatural fetus through his mouth, why does he expect a normal delivery? Why is his “pregnant” belly too big when he just easily coughed out the baby? How does the baby become the prophecized saviour of both human and monster world? And how come everything boils down to one tough kitchen battle in the end? 

    As much as its story is not fully realized, its characters are mostly underdeveloped. There are plenty of cameo appearances of big Chinese celebrities in roles that make no sense, like Tang Wei as a pawn shop owner, Yao Chen as the Heaven Restaurant master chief, and Yan Ni and Bao Jianfeng as the infertile couple. Even Jing as the lead Tianyin is too dummy to be inspiring. Bai as the hunter Xiaonan is commanding but her tough girl act is too familiar already. In essence, it is the baby monster Wuba, with his innocent mischief and heart-melting cuteness, who carries the movie. 

    Monster Hunt is as elementary and generic as its title. Its fantasy tropes, like the promised heir and its underdog team of guardians, are overused and forgettable. Its true achievement is with its remarkable visual effects and its lead monster protag.

    Production company: Edko Films Limited, Wanda Media Co., Dream Sky Pictures, BDI Films Inc. 
    Cast: Jing Boran, Bai Baihe, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng, Wallace Chung, Yao Chen, Yan Ni, Tang Wei, Jiang Wu,Elain Jin, Bao Jianfeng, Wang Yuexin, Guo Xiaodongm Zhou Pinrui
    Director: Raman Hui
    Screenwriter: Alan Yuen, Raman Hui
    Producer: Yee Chung Man, Bill Kong, Doris Tse Wu Huijun, Alan Yuen
    Executive producer: Bill Kong, Wang Tongyuan, Sun Zhonghuai, Allen Zhu
    Director of photography: Anthony Pun
    Production designer: Yohei Taneda
    Costume designer: Yee Chung Man
    Editor: Cheung Ka Fai
    Music: Leon Ko


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