While watching Monster Hunt, I got the feeling I’d seen it all before… in a film called Willow. A baby heir to a throne is given to someone outside its race, leading to all sorts of bungling cuteness between it, its caretaker, and a stray mercenary. Two interlopers trying to protect the baby provide the film’s comic relief, and the hero discovers his true calling during his adventures.
There’s not much to lift Monster Hunt above its shallow script by Alan Yuen. Monster Hunt gives off a certain feeling of detachment, as if it’s not willing to relax and let the film be itself. At every turn, there’s some kind of goofy joke that dispels any sense of seriousness, and it’s largely not funny. The film constantly relies upon the humiliation of the shortcomings of others, especially the film’s lead character Song Tianyin (Jing Boran).
Tianyin is introduced to us as the young mayor of a small rural village whose inhabitants take pleasure in yelling at him and putting him down. Even his own grandmother (Elaine Jin), suffering from some kind of dementia – don’t worry, it’ll all make some sense later down the road, the way it always does – doesn’t think much of him, comparing him unfavorably to his father, a revered Monster Hunter.
Through no fault of his own, Tianyin becomes impregnated – yep, you read that right – with the egg carrying the heir to the throne of the monster realm. Along the way, fledgling Monster Hunter Hua Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) attempts to collect the bounty on the baby monster, but slowly becomes not only its protector, but Tianyin’s as well. She’s Willow‘s Madmartigan, right down to the deep sarcastic streak.
The Monster Hunters exist to enforce the separation of monsters and humans; having lived alongside each other before, humans banished the monsters to their own realm, with horrible consequences coming to the monsters that cross into the human world. If it sounds a little like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, don’t be surprised – there’s a lot you’ll find similar between the two, right down to the final twist.
It’s a largely unoriginal mess which can somewhat be blamed upon its troubled production; its original star was arrested on drug charges, resulting in the majority of the film having to be reshot and special effects redone. More characters were added to up its star power, which makes Monster Hunt more scattershot than it should be. When the film strays from the central narrative of Tianyin, Xiaolan, and the baby, it stalls and drags amid offerings of stilted comedy.
With everything asked of director Raman Hui, you’d think the film would wind up a standout production; instead, it collapses into parody and silliness, complete with an ending dance number straight out of a bad Disney movie. Intended as a family movie, Monster Hunt goes out of its way to be tidy and pat, leaving the door open for a possible sequel. The film has its moments of laugh-out-loud slapstick, but it ends up being a fairly nondescript, forgettable kid’s movie with a forced spirit and little heart.
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