Chinese Film Review: Monster Hunt 捉妖记

“Monster Hunt” An Enjoyable CGI Romp Impressive for China

But beware of the Disney-esque song and dance numbers

 

https://thenanfang.com/monster-hunt-enjoyable-cgi-romp-impressive-china/

Monster Hunt

 

If you happen to live in China, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you must have seen some of those endless advertisements showcasing adorable monsters. That would be the phenomena of Monster Hunt (捉妖记), the now highest-grossing domestic Chinese film of all time. Directed by HongKonger and animator Ramon Hui, who also co-directed Shrek the Third, the film has captured the hearts of millions and paved the way for new Hollywood-style budgets in Chinese film.

Better late than never, I decided to finally see it. With English subtitles. Monster Hunt is an enjoyable adventure that utilizes the Hong Kong-style of action comedies, and mixes it with a mainland’s aesthetic for ancient China settings. Mostly family friendly, the film does include a few racy jokes including a male pregnancy and “birth” scene.

While the plot is fairly predictable if you think about it too much, there are enough surprises to entertain. Baihe Bai plays well as an up-and-coming monster hunter, although of course it turns out that the monsters aren’t all evil and new sides must be chosen. Boran Jing is adequate enough as the comic relief partner.

Warning, there are a few Disney-esque song-and-dance numbers which strain credulity even for this film, and gives it more of a childish tone than audiences might expect.

He only comes in halfway through, but the cute monster Huba is the true star of the film. The plot revolves around the monster being rescued and his royal lineage bringing new peace to human-monster relations. And, obviously, he makes a great mascot to sell toys. The CGI special effects portraying this character work well, especially impressive considering it’s a mainland China film.

On a more interesting and deeper note, the film does seem to have a valid message in all that. Specifically, it critiques the unethical Chinese practice in which the wealthy eat endangered species. When the villains make dubious claims that eating monster meat will bring youthfulness and vigor to shallow snobs, one can definitely see the same thing as relating to the cruel poaching of tigers and rhinoceroses and so on. Questioning and mocking such pseudo-medicinal practices is a very positive message to teach the Chinese youth.

Overall, it’s a good thing for Chinese cinema that they are able to make these kinds of films. It will remain to be seen how they’ll do competing with the West in the future, but it is a good start if nothing else. And, the story was left open for a sequel…

Monster Hunt/捉妖记 is now playing in Chinese theaters with English subtitles.

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Manga 漫画 マンガ!

Patriot that I am, I have always been a great fan of American comics — and by association that goes for various British authors as well. I grew up on superheroes primarily, though of course comics is a medium not a genre and there’s no reason I can’t read more literary and independent series along with the flying adolescent fantasies.

However, so far I admit to having been too Western-centric. There happens to be a whole other country with a tremendous comics tradition that dwarfs the whole of North America and Europe together. I speak of course, of that mysterious land of Japan.

 

I read:
Goodreads shelf: manga

 

The Eastern style is so different, and in many ways superior to the assembly-line system of writers, artists, inker and colorist . The cartoonist in Japan is almost always both author and illustrator, the he or she is helped by assistants. Black and white except for special occasions. Adaptations, usually made famous in anime productions, are word-for-word and shot-by-shot remakes extremely faithful to the source material. Comics being taken seriously by the literary world is fairly recent in the West, yet Japan embraced adult comics right after the post-war period as an efficient form of entertainment when they couldn’t afford to make films. They are produced quickly, read fast, and often stories come into hundreds of chapters (dozens of graphic novel volumes) for a story to be patiently completed by the auteur.

I recommend the brilliant essay/graphic novel Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud to delve deeply into the nature of East vs. West art forms, upon the subjects of minimalism and respect for words & pictures at once as well as studies on neurological effects of cartoons.

 

Let’s start with some history. Best place to begin is with Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga. An insanely-prolific writer and artist, the mangaka drew over 100,000 pages in his lifetime! Originally inspired by Disney stylings, he soon found his own voice in the 1950s and 60s. Funny how Disney later ripped off his Kimba the White Lion with a certain lion king…

I came late to the party, but did all I could to read his best works in my late teens and early twenties in the 90s and 2000s.

You may know the character of Astro Boy.

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Tezuka was originally trained as a doctor before he found his artistic calling, and his medical drama Black Jack comes highly recommended.

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There was also Adolf, about World War II. Buddha, biography of the holy one. Phoenix, an epic tale that bounced from ancient Japanese history to the far future.

Here’s the Goodreads shelf for more:
Tezuka

Now, I wasn’t watching the Astro Boy cartoon in the 1960s. I got into anime in the 90s like everybody else starting with a VHS tape of Akira.

I was way too young to be watching a movie like that, and I was blown away. The most badass cyberpunk film ever made, still awesome today.

“Neo-Tokyo is about to explode.”

AKIRA_(1988_poster)

The comic was even better. While the film had the title character — the government pscychic test subject Akira — only as brain tissue in jars, the comic had the super child reborn. And, when Neo-Tokyo was nuked the film ended. That was only half of the comics series. Then it continued twice as long with in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of World War IV. With incredibly detailed art work by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film.

 

There were higher standards back then. When manga really blew up in the 2000s, we learned that Japan produces a lot of crap as well. But in the 90s only the best of the best was worth translating into English. Dark Horse Comics in particular was the quality publishing company of record.

Ghost in the Shell, by Masamune Shirow, took hard science fiction to a whole other level.

Ghost_in_the_Shell

Masamune Shirow was never very prolific, but his books had a level of intricacy and know-how never before seen. Appleseed was more his opus, but Ghost in the Shell became his main franchise still going strong today. I enjoyed Black Magic and Orion equally.

 

But it wasn’t all seriousness and mindfuck scifi. A lot of these comics were more fun. Take the comics published by Viz:

I remember me and my sister bonding over Ranma, the gender-bending comedy of a martial artist who turns into a girl, with bunches of supporting characters who turned to animals. Challenging cisgender heteronormalcy before it was cool.

ranma-1_2-wallpaper

I wasn’t as into Sailor Moon as my sister, and most Shōjo is frankly crap. It was the works by top female mangaka Rumiko Takahashi that were so funny and so creative. I went further back, and discovered old Urusei Yatsura stories from the 70s about an alien demoness named Lum and her pervert ‘boyfriend.’

“Dah-ling!”

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I never did get into Inuyasha though.

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