By John Esther | January 23, 2016
Director: Raman Hui
Writer: Alan Yuen
Starring: Baihe Bai, Boran Jing, Wu Jiang, Elaine Jin, Wallace Chung, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng, Wei Tang, Chen Yao, Ni Yan, Jianfeng Bao, Yuexin Wang
Once upon a time, monsters and humankind lived together. Then a civil war between the two species broke out and the monsters were banished across borders. That was the way of this mythical world until a new general forced a monster queen and king to run back into their ancestral lands in order to protect their unborn son.
Disguising themselves as humans, King Zhungao (Eric Tsang) and Queen Fat Ying (Sandra Ng), run into Tianyin (Boran Jing), a goofy, ineffectual guy who just happens to be the mayor of the town. It seems Tianyin is about to be monster mash when a monster hunter named Xiaolin (Baihe Bai) interrupts supper and captures the king and queen.
Unfortunately for Xiaolin, her prize capture is stolen by the great monster hunter, Luo Gang (Wu Jiang) but not after, wait for it, the Queen has passed on her unborn to Tianyin.
After some gender jocularity about male “motherhood,” Tianyin gives birth to “his” son, Wabu, a chubby, rubber looking radish with multiple limbs, including one very strong tail.
While Tianyin and Xiaolin start to fall for Wabu, neither of them is willing to start a family with each other, much less, Wabu; but neither do they wish to give the little monster up. When the couple finally do make their decision on what to do, one may ask: Who is the monster?
The latest film from master animator Raman Hui (Shrek, Madagascar and Antz), Monster Hunt essentially marked his solo, feature-length film debut. In terms of box office, it has been a monstrous hit, becoming the highest grossing film in China’s history.
In terms of entertainment value, Monster Hunt is mildly amusing. The animation is impressive, the monsters are cute, the story is rather straightforward and pretty thin for a 115-minute running time, while the jokes are generally goofy in a pedestrian sort of vein. The martial arts between man and monster and various combinations thereof is probably the highlight of the show. The monsters, like non-human animals in our “animal kingdom,” do not use inanimate weapons.
Yet underneath this Chinese film, like so many Chinese films (at least the ones making it to U.S. theaters), there are a few metaphors at play. In the case of Monster Hunt, speciesism serves as a synecdoche for racism or xenophobia. The monsters are viewed as subhuman, something to be searched out and destroyed.
The nice (mostly) monsters apparently dwell (in mostly working class conditions, of course) among the human beings yet the vegetarian species only wants peace while the human carnivores are literally out for blood.
When that bloodlust plays out in the later kitchen scenes of Monster Hunt, the illustrated horrors for live animals in a kitchen — like any food preparation center, i.e. butcher shop, abattoir, etc. — are pretty gruesome. The violence may fly over the heads of many children, but adults may have second thoughts on what they order for dinner after watching the master chef at Heaven Restaurant (Chen Yao) viciously cut and kill her way to haute cuisine. (Vegetarians will have a laugh at her demise.)
Opening tomorrow in theaters nationwide, the film will be available in English, Mandarin with English subtitles, 2D and 3D.
This review was based on a screening of the English-subtitled version in 2D.