I watch a lot of foreign language movies, and most of the ones that make it over to the United States — and I’m not talking about the horror movies, because we’ll always get foreign horror movies – are the high-brow arthouse pictures that we film snobs nod at and say “yes, I love seeing other cultures.” I like those too, of course, but I also really enjoy seeing the populist movies, because just like the similar types of movies over here, they’re kind of silly, they humor doesn’t usually translate, and they make a whole ton of money. The highest-grossing film in Chinese history, Monster Hunt, is making its way to the United States, and it is delightfully insane.
A lot of people say “this movie is everything” to mean it’s all they want out of life or they’ve become obsessed with it or something like that. But, when I say Monster Hunt is everything, I need you to read it as Monster Hunt is all the things. There isn’t a thing that this movie is not. Get it? It’s a half-animated, slapstick, romantic adventure with musical numbers, choreographed Wuxia fights, and a man who becomes pregnant by having a CGI monster egg put into his mouth. I mean, it’s just everything. That it somehow all makes sense, relatively speaking, is a miracle of modern science.
Directed by Raman Hui, the co-director of Shrek the Third as well as several DreamWorks animated shorts, Monster Hunt takes place in a mythical ancient world where big CGI monsters inhabit the Earth. It was once a peaceful cohabitation between humans and monsters, but since humans are evil and greedy, we drove them away and professional hunters of monsters became the most respected in the land. Those people are, guess what, called Monster Hunters and they possess all manner of different powers.
Our hero for the adventure is Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) who is the descendant of monster hunters, but is just a cook in his scatterbrained grandma’s restaurant. (He is also his village’s mayor, apparently.) He quickly gets wrapped up in the travails of some monsters dressed as humans attempting to protect the Queen of the Monsters from a big evil winged monster. He also comes across a young monster hunter named Hua Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) whom he finds very attractive, but she wants nothing to do with him. As luck would have it, they’re forced to help each other when, in a last-ditch effort to save her unborn child, the dying Queen removes the egg from her own torso (via stabbing) and shoves it into Tianyin’s mouth, making his belly immediately 8 months preggers.
If you can believe it, all of that is just the first half hour. There are also scenes in which the evil Lord something-or-other wants to destroy all monster kind, and there are even several instances of monsters – which let me remind you, are cute and cartoony-looking – being sliced up and served to humans as food. And there are at least three musical numbers in the middle of the film just to give it a bit of that Bollywood flavor, I guess. It’s a hodgepodge of movie things, and it’s actually surprising how enjoyable the movie is.
Throughout, the movie is treated like it’s the best time you’re ever going to have at the movies, and while I don’t think that’s true, it’s hard not to find some of the scenes and characters endearing. Bai Baihe’s performance is really good, I think, and the fact that she gets to be the movie’s lone heroic ass-kicker for most of the runtime is pretty awesome in the Rey-and-Furiosa world we live in now. Not everything works, and some things go on longer than they maybe ought, but I’m glad to have the chance to see the uncut, Mandarin-language version of the movie without it being cut and re-dubbed for our dumbed-down American brains.
If you like watching weird stuff, and enjoy a movie that’s at least 40% devoted to making a cool period-set Kung fu action flick, and don’t mind some maybe-not-excellent CGI characters, then you should have a good time with Monster Hunt. The effort into the sets, costumes, and cinematography are immaculate and everything is done for fun. Just don’t expect Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
3 out of 5 Chinese Smorgasborded Burritos
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He also adores talking in the third person. Follow him on Twitter!