Currently the highest grossing movie in Chinese box office history, Monster Hunt’s success means that it has attracted interest from Western audiences. But for the first half you’ll be wondering what all the fuss is about. While its world – where humans exist alongside monsters in the distant past – is set-up quickly and the spectacular visual effects immediately sparkle and impress, Monster Hunt soon disintegrates into mayhem.
You see, in Monster Hunt, while Humans and Monsters previously existed alongside each other, they no longer do so peaceful. The Humans have driven Monsters away to their own realm in order to have complete control over the land. After a civil war in the Monster Realm, the Monster King is usurped by a treacherous minister, who then sets out to capture the Monster Queen and her unborn baby. To escape, she flees to the Human Realm.
Once there she bumps into the nervous villager Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) and the burgeoning Monster-hunter Hua Xiaolan (Bai Baaihe), who protect the baby from the various villains of the Human and Monster worlds. Oh yeah, Song becomes pregnant with the Monster Queen’s baby too, which, because he’s a man, is rooting tooting hilarious. Apparently.
From the outset, Monster Hunt’s plot is muddled. Not only is it presented poorly, but it all unfolds at such a preposterous ferocity that you are immediately lost in a world that you rapidly start losing interest in. It also doesn’t help that the dubbed version features some truly abhorrent vocal performances, which lack any nuance and, when paired with the cheesy camp humor and atrocious dialogue, makes Monster Hunt seem antiquated.
Throughout it all, the visual effects remain stunning though, as the eclectic array of creatures seamlessly merge into the ancient Chinese locale. Because of this, even in its most confusing moments, your faith in Monster Hunt won’t fully diminish. It also helps that the film’s martial art fight sequences are meticulously orchestrated and, mostly, enthralling.
In fact, you soon start to become desensitized, and actually adjust to the mayhem. While Monster Hunt is proudly Chinese, it is also packed with American references and homages, none of which are subtle, and it has the vigor and ambition of a Hollywood production.
The setting-up of the film’s mythology is straight out of Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, the wonderful collection of creatures immediately echoes the wacky beings from Star Wars: A New Hope’s Cantina scene, while, obviously, the male-being-pregnant angle is a blatant rip-off of Junior. There’s even a Harry And The Hendersons tip of the hat at Monster Hunt’s conclusion that will immediately reduce any John Lithgow die-hard into a fit of giggles. I'm being totally serious.
Once you’re used to the chaos, Monster Hunt genuinely becomes entertaining. But it's a little too late to fully make up for its previous shortcomings. And while it never fully relents, or even reverts to a coherent rhythm, its idiosyncrasies become charming. Sure, it’s cheesy and absurd, but it ultimately does enough to placate all of the family, and, for better and worse, is proudly an odd, odd film.