Monday, July 27, 2015

Diva's Movie Review: China Box Office Hit "Monster Hunt" Needs More Bite (Minor Spoilers)

"Monster Hunt" (捉妖记) is probably one of those movies you may not have heard of, but it is the biggest hit movie in China right now.

On opening day alone, the movie raked in 162 million Yuan (SGD 35.8 mil) of box office takings. In addition, it also earned over 669 million Yuan (SGD 147.8 mil) during the first weekend. It is currently the highest-grossing film in China, having earned 1.32 billion Yuan (SGD 286.7 mil) since its first day at the box office.

These record-breaking feats got Red Dot Diva curious enough to see whether "Monster Hunt" was worth all the hype, even though generally, her taste in films do not coincide with those of most viewers in mainland China.

Directed by Dreamworks animator Raman Hui, who was also co-director on "Shrek the Third", "Monster Hunt" is a blend of live-action and VFX footage in a Sinicized-fantasy world where monsters and mankind are at odds with each other, and the monsters are driven by the humans to flee deep into the mountains.

Many years later, a civil war breaks out in the monsters' kingdom, and the pregnant queen barely manages to escape with her two guardians. While fighting off their larger enemy, the queen became seriously injured. She crossed paths with a young nerdy mayor of Yongning Village TianYing (Jin Boran) and hastily leaves her egg to his care. This baby monster is Wuba and legend has it that he will be "destined to change the world".

Together with feisty female novice monster hunter Xiaonan (Bai Baihe), the two keep the baby alive. However, monster-trafficking is a lucrative trade and with such a precious commodity in their hands, Xiaonan is determined to sell off the child king at a good price. When they later discover that the monsters were mainly sold to a restaurant owner/ warlord-type figure as exotic dishes, TianYing and Xiaonan - who have formed a bond with Wuba - battle to rescue him as well as the other monsters who have been captured.

Red Dot Diva found it amusing that the story took the path of a subject that is very close to a Chinese's heart (or stomach as the case may be) - FOOD. In fact, there was a long segment where a celebrated chef (Yao Chen) made various attempts to cook up some kick-ass monster dishes. Come to think of it, most of the monsters in the movie *do* look like they come straight out from a salad bowl, with many shaped like leeks, dragon fruit or mushrooms. Baby Wuba himself resembled a mochi-fied radish (except with teeth and tentacles), which some may consider cute. Red Dot Diva would beg to differ though.

The highlight of the movie, in Red Dot Diva's opinion, was the performances of Eric Tsang and Sandra Ng as the protective guardians searching for the baby monster king. Their chemistry as a couple was spot on, and their comedic timing, almost faultless.

To the production crew's benefit, the mix of VFX animation and live action did not seem jarring. This, however, could not mask the lack of a strong storyline and convincing characterizations of both the monsters and humans. Although, one could perhaps be distracted by the lively acting, clichéd jokes, somewhat cute-ish (actually not really) monster antics and goofy wuxia stunts.

Basically, "Monster Hunt" is targeted especially for China's movie-goers. For the rest of the world, unless one is interested to find out what makes China's audience tick, Red Dot Diva is certain that there are more engaging family-oriented movies out there.

Watch the "Monster Hunt" trailers, and judge for yourself. Perhaps you may have a different kind of visual craving.


Thanks to Sony Pictures Sg for the invite to the preview screening.

"Monster Hunt" opened locally in theatres on 23 July.

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