Director: Raman Hui
Writer: Alan Yuen (story), Alan Yuen
Stars: Baihe Bai, Boran Jing, Wu Jiang, Elaine Jin
Runtime: 117 min
Genre: Action, Comedy, Fantasy
Released: 22 Jan 2016
Synopsis: In an ancient world where monsters rule the land while humans keep to their own kingdom, a baby monster, Wuba, is born to a human father and monster queen. When mortals and creatures alike set out to capture the newborn, Wuba’s adventure begins. The cute baby monster Huba is the child of a human man and a monster queen, threatened by both monster-hating humans and monsters attempting to capture the new-born in an ancient world based on medieval China.
While it’s just beginning to play in American theaters, “Monster Hunt” has already proven its box office muscle overseas, currently standing as the highest grossing film in China. That’s no small feat, and it’s easy to see why the picture has become a phenomenon in its homeland, boasting furious action, cute creatures, and a comfortable balance of dark humor and slapstick. It’s a weird feature, slightly unhinged at times, but director Raman Hui keeps a firm grip on screen adventure and broad antics. “Monster Hunt” is an acquired taste, but those able to dial into its special frequency of fantasy and pandemonium are rewarded with a breezy, amusing extravaganza.
Long ago, monsters that once inhabited the land were separated from society, forced to build their own kingdom away from humans. Now divided by civil war, threatened by violent rule, the future of the monster realm is dependent on the birth of its future king, with the queen making an escape to safety amongst the humans. Coming across meek seamster Tianyin (Jing Boran), the queen implants her egg inside the frightened human, who’s suddenly tasked with protection and eventually birth. Teaming with outcast warrior Xiaolan (Bai Baihe), the pair attempts to find a peaceful resolution to an uncommon problem, evading capture as Monster Hunt Bureau chief Ge (Wallace Chung) offers a monetary reward for any trespassing creatures. Facing threat from all sides, Tianyin and Xiaolan eventually bond with their new baby, Wuba, a tiny creature who’s the key to future human-monster relations.
Hui is no stranger to the world of animated antics, having trained at Dreamworks, where he co-directed “Shrek the Third” and oversaw a few of the company’s holiday specials. “Monster Hunt” plays to his strengths, presenting a semi-cartoon environment that blends live-action with CGI-animated characters, encouraging a hyper atmosphere of fantasy filmmaking as the screenplay picks through mythical inspirations and broadly comic set pieces (there are musical numbers as well). Thankfully, introductions are relatively painless, getting the audience up to speed quickly on the state of the union, introduced to a pack of monsters on the run from their own kind, with the queen especially anxious to locate a safe haven, trying to protect her unborn child. “Monster Hunt” cuts right to the chase, showcasing a destructive forest battle between the titular creatures, and exposition is handled cleanly, soon switching over to Tianyin’s daily challenges in his mundane life.