(Zhuo Yao Ji)
So what then does it take for a film to appeal to so many people in China? Well, apparently not too much more than a rehash of Steven Spielbergs E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), albeit with a specifically Chinese favour. It is E.T. set in the nebulous imperial Chinese past that so much of martial arts and Wu Xia cinema favours. It is also an E.T. where the creatures are magical as opposed to alien. This has also been conflated with the usual action stylistics of Wu Xia Monster Hunt could almost be E.T. crossbred with A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) where the various monster hunters engage in high-flying wirework, bouncing off walls and trees and conducting impossibly graceful leaps through the air.
The Wu Xia film has been trying to adapt to CGI with varying degrees of success since the late 1990s. I could have welcomed the idea of flying swordsmen and the like combating magical CGI creatures. Alas, the creatures are represented by what look like CGI animation from back around 2001 when the medium was in its infancy and characters lacked a high degree of texturing and density. The concept of martial artists against fantasy creatures fails entirely when it looks for all the world that the creatures being encountered resemble something like Mr Blobby.
The other major minus point is the emphasis on slapstick comedy. There is a vein of this that runs through Chinese cinema all characters in hysteric falsettos running around frenetically. This sometimes hits the heights of Jackie Chans Drunken Master films or the works of Stephen Chow but is mostly witless and excruciating. It as though Monster Hunt, in its desire to appeal to the widest demographic and create a homegrown mass appeal hit, pitched the comedy to the most simplistic level the sort of inanity that you get in childrens live-action fantasies. Thus we get agonising comedic scenes with people up against the monsters, Jing Boran pursuing the baby up around the rafters of a hotel room or faking various voices as he tries to pretend to other guests that he is a grandmother giving birth. The absolute low point of the film is surely the climactic scenes where Jing Boran uses the babys ability to expel seed pips with machine-gun rapidity to defeat his opponents.