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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. Written by
What makes "Monster Hunt" so appealing is its easily digestible story arc, refreshingly devoid of Confucian morality, educational historical background or nationalistic grandstanding in short, everything that makes most Chinese children's films such a yawn. Stylistically, the film blends Western demon-slaying elements, Japanese yokai folklore, and even a distant echo of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" into a fanciful Chinese setting, beefing it up with robust martial arts action with an eye toward holding the attention of adult viewers.
In "Monster Hunt" the protagonists are greenish ogres with mushy hearts not surprisingly, since this jolly live-action/animated Chinese period fantasy is helmed by Raman Hui, the Hong Kong-born animation supervisor who was involved with the genesis of the "Shrek" franchise. The toon creatures are the real stars in this zippy, technically accomplished entertainer, which has become the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time.
Jing, who has so far been a sturdy foil for showier leads like Eddie Peng in "Rise of the Legend" or Huang Xiaoming in "The Guillotines," trudges along with little charisma in the earlier scenes, but perks up as soon as Bai arrives on the scene. With her pixie-like charm, Bai is the spark that fuels their larky courtship. However, the narrative is at times bogged down by celebrity comedians and A-list stars jostling for attention in what are essentially glorified cameo appearances.
The film is supposedly inspired by "Classic of Mountains and Seas" ("Shan Hai Jing"), a 206 B.C. Chinese tome in which the monsters look like blowfish that have swallowed dinosaurs. But Director Hui's artistic input no doubt helped inspire a creature-design aesthetic that's recognizably Asian, yet spunkier and less parochial than most Chinese animation, with their slavish reproductions of classical Chinese templates. Thanks to high-caliber visual effects supervised by Jason Snell (the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", "Elysium", and "Tomorrowland"), among others the interaction between the animated and live-action characters is seamless, as are the monsters' dramatic transformations. Yohei Taneda's production design blends ethereal inkbrush landscapes with period sets that range from mundane to spectacular. The tussles between humans are choreographed by Ku Huen-chiu with snappy, cartoonish timing, but remain bound by Hong Kong high-wire stunt conventions.
Raman Hui does a perfectly competent job of keeping things together, and his experience in Hollywood working for DreamWorks, including co-directing "Shrek the Third", does give the film somewhat of an east meets west feel that differentiates it from other recent Chinese fantasies. It's certainly easy to see why the film went down so well with local audiences, though thanks to a lack of the usual flag waving patriotism and a focus on universal themes of family and community, there's nothing here to make it inaccessible to those in other countries around the world.
The film's status as a genuine home-grown blockbuster is cemented through some excellent production values and heartwarming character designs, with some top notch special effects, sets and costumes making it visually impressive from start to finish. There's really a great deal to like about "Monster Hunt", and it should have a much wider appeal than most other fantasy or family films from Asia. An important benchmark of sorts as a smash hit Chinese blockbuster made primarily for Chinese audiences, it's well-deserving of its success, and hopefully the inevitable sequels will attain the same level of highly enjoyable tomfoolery.Chinese blockbuster
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