By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The only reason why the supernatural beasties in Monster Hunt (捉妖记) are cute than frightful is to make this product accessible for youths. The first film released in 2015 was very successful at the box office.
Three years later, the sequel is chiming in Chinese New Year! This latest live-action CGI marvel directed by Raman Hui (Shrek the Third) has more enthusiasm going for it. The team he assembled adds nuances which are globally recognized than making it a piece of traditional Chinese Fantasy — namely in world construction ala Harry Potter and the addition of musical numbers ala Walt Disney. Also, this tale is far more sentimental.
The adventures of Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) and Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) continue. Although separated from Wuba, a creature that looks like a fat radish with a mop of grass hair, they still wonder how he is doing. The familial bond is important in this tale.
However, the grander plot continues and a few new clues as to why Wuba is important is revealed. He is a creature of prophecy. I do not mind how this concept moves from start to the next chapter. The tale is very familiar, but twisted around enough to not sound like Kung Fu Panda trilogy and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace combined. Clues are offered like in the Kung Fu Panda trilogy instead of laying out this little one’s future. The world of monsters has undergone a civil war and a very pregnant beast fled to the human world to save her son because the Demon King wants him. If the Monster Hunter Bureau has their way, more trouble is only coming. This organization knows what this child represents. Tianyin and Xialoan are only scratching the surface of where this series will go as they stumble along. When considering they helped raise him (Tianyin is the ‘mother’) the emotional attachment is heavy. Knowing the introduction from the first film is required.
A third film may well reveal all. According to an interview published by Variety, plans are in place to turn this film series into a franchise.
Despite some haphazard plotting, the manic approach Hui uses to make this second film is fun. It is lighthearted than a serious product. The musical numbers add to the festive time of the Chinese New Year instead of enhancing this story. The stand out is not Wuba. As cute as he is to challenge Monkey King for iconic recognition, that’s not likely to happen. Pikachu might have to worry. Instead, it’s Tu Sigu (Tony Leung), a swindler who can give Han Solo lessons in how to stay a scoundrel. This accomplished actor made the relationship between Sigu and his multi-armed wookie, Ben-Ben, become more than about how two cultures can get along. This giant radish may well be the adult version of what Wuba will grow up to. Instead of a mop of grass for hair, he has a leaf.
My hope for this series is to not take too long to release new chapters. I’m very interested in seeing how the bigger story develops. Wuba is no Hellboy, but I can sense he is vital to the unification effort of not only keeping the peace in the monster world but also with how this realm will integrate with the mortal. Although the producers did not plan for successive years to release, the wait is as difficult as pining for the final movie of the How to Train Your Dragon series.
4 Stars out of 5