Monster Hunt Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by FilmRise
Directed by Raman Hui
Written by Alan Yuen
2015, 111 minutes, Not Rated
Released theatrically on January 22nd, 2016
Baihe Bai as Huo Xiaolan
Boran Jing as Song Tianyin
Wu Jiang as Luo Gang
As of July 2015, Monster Hunt was the highest grossest Chinese film in China EVER, and it should be. This fantastic movie covers family strain, finding love, compassion between species, kung fu, vampirism, civil unrest, and mah jongg.
In their quest for domination, the humans drove the monsters into the wild where the Monster King ruled over his citizens peacefully for many years. Now that he is old and dying, a new monster is attempting to usurp power from the unborn prince. As his loyal followers die, the king sends his queen into the wild to protect their baby. During her flight, she becomes mortally injured and has to pass on the Royal Egg to a human, the hapless Song Tianyin. For better and worse for Tianyin, Monster Hunter Huo Xiaolan saw him...and she wants to collect the reward for turning in that baby monster to authorities. During Tianyin and Huo's journey across China's countryside to the city, Tianyin “gives birth” to the baby (by coughing up the egg, relax). Once they meet the little prince, turning him over becomes a lot harder to do. But with rival monster hunters chasing them and monsters fighting for and against the baby, what can two lowly humans do?
Being presumably marketed toward children and families, one has to take the over-the-top acting and goofy poop jokes in stride. Despite that, this is a remarkable movie with many lessons for those of us out of elementary school.
The story is really well constructed. It never expands too far outside the individual motives of Tianyin and Huo, so you're always connected directly with their goals and their feelings. Even when the monster hunter authority becomes involved, it only acts as direct contrast to the leads, making the goals of our beloved heroes more important and never makes us feel they're too far out of their lead. It's an important message that no matter how silly, one (or two) ordinary people can choose to make a stand. In terms of the authority, it also reminds us that policies are frequently resulting from an individual's ideology and greed versus the good of the people they rule. Family and friends are treasured and sought out, compassion is learned for those previously misunderstood, enemies become allies, and Tianyin even makes peace with his long-lost father. All in a children's movie about monsters.
The film itself is beautiful. The sets are filled with vivid colors and symbols, many of whose origin I'm sure I don’t understand but added to the tapestry of Monster Hunt. The costuming of traditional dress is glorious, and the set decoration is incredible, despite most of it being destroyed in elaborate flying kung fu battles. Still pretty awesome. The monsters are clearly CGI, but that is undoubtedly for the benefit of children who might be frightened by a more realistic 12 foot beast with fangs. Their eyes are very human, which only makes that baby monster more loveable and life changing for Tianyin and even Huo.
My favorite part, however, are the female characters. They are all amazing. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you a little about why I love them. Tianyin's grandmother is a hardass with a touch of Alzheimer’s who likes to give him the business. His village aunties give him a hard time for being such a weak mayor, and tease him as much as they love him. The head chef at the hunter authority's manor may be self-possessed, but she is a scream as she attempts to create a masterpiece that won't cooperate. And Huo is an aspiring master hunter who refuses to let any of her failures or inexperience stop her from reaching Level 4, even as she learns she can feel more for Tianyin and the monster prince than an opportunity for profit. They're all strong and flawed and very, very funny. In fact, all the actors approach their roles with humor and passion, and every performance is enjoyable.
I can't believe my first 5-star review of 2016 is a Chinese monster movie made for kids, but damn this is a shockingly heart-warming movie. Do yourself a favor and watch this. It'll make your winter.