Berlin Film Review: ‘Monster Hunt 2’

Animator Raman Hui directs the giggly, nutty, enjoyable sequel to his megahit 2015 family film, and all across China, cash registers ring.

Raman Hui
Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Bai Baihe, Jing Boran, Chris Lee, Yo Yang
Release Date:
Feb 16, 2018

1 hour 50 minutes

“Don’t think too much!” are the very first words in Raman Hui’s new Chinese-language, live-action/CG hybrid family adventure. And you’ve scarcely had time to wonder if that might be a cynical advance apologia for a potentially shoddy sequel to a wildly popular original, before you find yourself obeying. “Monster Hunt 2” is so perfectly good-natured and so utterly nonsensical that it makes not-thinking-about-it basically an act of self-preservation, for which, bless its bouncing, gurgling, flolloping heart. Before the brief Bollywood musical-style opening has even concluded, with the brightly clad dancers joyously wriggling out of their “human outfits” to reveal the tubby, blubbery, sunny-dispositioned “monsters” they are underneath, the only part of the viewer’s brain that would light up a CT scan is the Awww! cortex. These creatures are adorable.

Most adorable of all is the film’s star, Wuba. A pudgy little cross between Baby Groot, a Porg, and a stress ball topped with a tuft of watercress hair, he is an actual infant to boot, so double aww! Plus, he speaks in a series of delighted squeaks and giggles that make the average Gerber Baby sound like a 40-a-day smoker who spends all day at the dog track. Wuba, of course, is not just any monster, but a princeling, and one who, being born of human parents, may actually hold the key to uniting the long-divided Monster and Human realms. Not that that narrative gets advanced a single inch in “Monster Hunt 2”: When the film that launched the franchise broke all box office records in China, the second largest film market in the world, you know you’re going to be around a while. Hui and new writers Jack Ng, Sunny Chan and Su Liang are content to give the series mythology a rest in favor of what is, if you burrow through the pee gags, subplots, and wire stunts, a simple family-reunion story.

Wuba’s parents Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) and Tianyin (Jing Boran) regret their well-intentioned decision, made at the end of the last film, to send Wuba to the Monster Realm to be with his own kind. They set out to find him, at the same time that Wuba, narrowly escaping capture by the evil Monster King, suddenly finds himself on the run, too. Happily, Wuba befriends the resourceful BenBen, a monster who can camouflage himself into invisibility and whose sweet dimples make him look a bit like Woody Harrelson when he smiles. BenBen works as a general factotum to scallywag gambler Tu, played gamely by Tony Leung Chiu-wai. The role of Tu, who at one point sports a prosthetic nose and at another wears a Tony the Tiger-style plushie suit and gets sawed in half by a magician, might seem a bit of a backslide for the Leung we all swooned over in those smoky “In the Mood for Love” doorways. But the actor has a grand old time regardless — and you know, he actually works that tiger costume.

The story is sweeter and gooier this time out; there’s a lot less monster-eating for one thing. And the first film’s most lastingly subversive element — that it was young Tianyin who “gave birth” to Wuba and not his skilled monster-hunter missus Xiaolan — has settled into a groove of gentle gender-comedy. “Treat him like you would any woman, that’s what I do!” Xiaolan demands of the doctor they visit to cure Tianyin’s postpartum depression. “Okay,” the doctor tells him, “It’s all in your head!”

The visual effects work is miles better than in first entry, in which sometimes the live actors and CG characters seemed less to be sharing the same space than bellowing across an impassable Uncanny Valley. And here the human actors meet their pixel-based counterparts at least halfway in terms of broadness of performance. Indeed, sometimes the monsters, who own most of the dignity and all the emotional beats, look faintly embarrassed by the overt cartoonishness of the gurning, pratfalling humans.

Special mention should also go to Yee Chung Man’s fabulous, semi-mythological costuming, and to the production design team of Lee Kin Wai, Guillaume Aretos and Yohei Taneda for the vine-strewn, lavender-carpeted Monster Realm, the workshop of the lovestruck weapons-maker where it’s always snowing popped rice, and the halls of the sinister Monster Hunting Bureau that land somewhere between Gringotts and Trump Tower for gilded excess. “Monster Hunt 2” will of course bring franchise fans back to the theater (it already has, garnering the biggest opening day of all time in China). But it also deserves to recruit some new ones, among younger kids and anyone not so enculturated into Disney-esque narrative formula that they can’t enjoy an anarchically silly, amiably bonkers foreign-language kids film for what it so triumphantly is: an excuse to not think too much.

Popular on Variety

Berlin Film Review: 'Monster Hunt 2'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Special Gala), Feb. 17, 2018. Running Time: 110 MIN. (Original Title: "Zhuo yao ji 2")

Production: (Hong Kong-China) A Lionsgate (in U.S.) release of an Edko Films, Dream Sky Pictures Co., China Film Co., Edko (Beijing) Films, Tencent Penguin Pictures (Shanghai) Co., Shanghai Tao Piao Piao Movie & TV Culture Co., TianJin MaoYan Media Co.,Dadi Century (Beijing) Co., Zhe Jiang Heng Dian Film Co., Huoerguosi Jinyi Film Co., Tianjin Wuba Film Culture Co., Huaxia Film Distribution Co., Wuxi Pictures, Zhejiang Films & TV presentation of a Champion Star Pictures production. (International sales: Edko Films, Hong Kong.) Producers: Bill Kong, Yee Chung Man, Doris Tse. Co- Producers: Jiang Ping, Jiang Jun. Executive Producers: Bill Kong, Lv Jianchu, La Peikang, Sun Zhonghuai, Fan Luyuan, Peter Zheng, Liu Rong, Xu Tianfu, Leo Li, Chen Jianning, Fu Ruoqing, Shi Juan, Yang Yang, Jiande Chen.

Crew: Director: Raman Hui. Screenplay: Jack Ng, Sunny Chan, Su Liang. Camera (color): Anthony Pun. Editors: Cheung Ka Fai, David Richardson. Music: Leon Ko.

With: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Bai Baihe, Jing Boran, Chris Lee, Yo Yang, Da Peng, Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang, Huang Lei, Liu Yan, MoMo Wu, X-NINE, Jiang Chao, Lou Yixiao, Zhang Li. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Beforeigners

    'Beforeigners’' Anne Bjornstad on HBO's First Norwegian Original Series

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  HBO Europe’s first Norwegian original series, which debuted Aug. 21 exclusively across HBO’s territories, has garnered rave reviews in the Norwegian press. It is also a perfect fit for HBO’s brand and goal to create bold, smart and author-driven shows. Produced by Endemol Shine’s Norwegian prodco Rubicon TV, “Beforeigners” is helmed by [...]

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

  • Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

    Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ Wins Top Prize in Sarajevo

    “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” Bosnian director Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story about a teen raised in the Netherlands who returns to Bosnia to visit her ailing father, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival Thursday night, earning the Amsterdam-based helmer the coveted Heart of Sarajevo Award. The jury heralded the “beautifully photographed, acted, scripted [...]

  • Khadar Ahmed - BUFO - photo

    Bufo Sets Key Cast for Co-Production ‘The Gravedigger' (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —   Actor Omar Abdi, who starred in the Ahmed-scripted short “Citizens,” and actress Yasmin Warsame, who made her name as a Canadian model, will topline romantic-tragedy “The Gravedigger,” the latest big screen project from Bufo, the Helsinki-based outfit behind Berlinale winner “The Other Side of Hope.” The film follows a Djibouti gravedigger [...]

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content