(The Vintage Tempest)
Available on Netflix
The idea to adapt the American book into a Chinese film, Monster Run, is odd. This country is better off taking concepts from their own vast catalogue of lore than to look across the Pacific. The plot outline of Monster by A. Lee Martinez is also very familiar.
Some ideas are good, like the comic relief from a smart-mouthed animated piece of paper and a heroine who is not fully aware of her psychic abilities. Ji Mo (Jessie Li) can see monsters. However, she is not in full control of her abilities and she thinks she’s an odd duck. She’s like Pai in the Japanese manga Sazan Eyes by Yuzo Takada, innocent and cute. However, she doesn’t have Sanjiyan’s confidence, another personality hiding within her, to control the beasts. That belongs to her rival, Lotus (Kara Hui).
Meng (Shawn Yue) is the only person who can help. One night, while Mo is handing out flyers for the grocery store she works at, he is hunting for a nearby sleeping beast. Their meeting wasn’t easy; he is a conceited fool, as annoying as Han Solo when Leia first met him, but in control of the situation with Paper, his partner (voiced by the scene stealing Qiao Shan) providing support. This possessed piece of stationery is hilarious and the many forms he can fold himself into give this film an air of originality!
Even the special effects aren’t all that notable except for him, especially when he turns into a variant of a Moai, the Easter Island Head, as a door. The fiery rhinoceros is cool, but the assortment is a mixed bag of cute and fierce. These monsters the trio have to face are more like trolls in the classic European sense, existing in a distinct vibration so they can’t be seen by humans, and causing problems. They look like live-action CGI realizations of the creatures from Trollhunters, and this problem doesn’t help make for an Asian film. Instead, the film is meant for a general audience. The monster designs are more like dolls so they can sell in stores in China.
However, I’m surprised Mo is treated like a punk. Her boss doesn’t give her due, as she can easily be a charming greeter at the store she works in or a spokeswoman. It’s her awkwardness which holds her back, and this film is very much a story about her building that self confidence needed to deal with her many problems in her life, including becoming accepted in society. She can’t speak out because she fears being ridiculed.
Had this story been reworked to follow Takada’s work, I’m sure the story would have been more enjoyable. 3×3 Eyes was loved at the height of its popularity in early 00s; I wouldn’t be surprised if the writing team of Fan Wenwen, Henri Wong, Wang Yahe, Alex Zhang and Disa Zhang was influenced by it. The big fight between Meng and Lotus’s henchmen is very much like how I’d envision Yakumo’s fight with Benares taking place in a live action take. The exotic monster designs made this manga great, and this film misses a huge beat by turning half their monsters into cute creations from Brothers Grimm.
3 Stars out of 5