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Hanson and the Beast
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by Jay Seaver

"If nothing else, she's a real fox."
4 stars

World-building and character-based fantasy can be a trap, and "Hanson and the Beast" accidentally shows how this can be: For much of its running time, it's an enjoyably goofy "mythological creatures/were-people live in our midst" thing more likely to go full screwball than make one worry too much about how it all works, and that's when is at its best. Start worrying too much about how all the piece fit together, and it threatens to become no fun at all, though the filmmakers put up a good fight when that danger rears its ugly head.

Before jumping back a day or so, the movie kicks off with a terrified "Hanson" Yuan Shuai (Feng Shaofeng) running through Shanghai in his underwear after what you'd think was an epically-terrible blind date. Hanson's been on a lot of those lately, trying to find a rich wife; as an aspiring actor he wound up deep in debt due to a predatory production scam that has gangsters trying to collect nearly three million yuan, and his father's room at the mental hospital won't pay for itself. The girl he meets at a bar is different, though - Bai Xianchu (Liu Yifei) is young, cute, and determined to marry him as she has apparently been nursing a crush on him for twenty years, since they were about nine. He doesn't remember her, but that's understandable - she's a yaojing, in her case an Arctic Silver Fox, and was in her animal form at the time. Unfortunately, yaojing aren't even supposed to be friends with humans, let alone lovers, and her every change in form sets off an alarm at the local Bureau of Transfiguration. Shanghai's lead agent, Hong Sicong (Guo Jingfei), does what he can to let Bai slide, but Commissioner Yun Zhonghe (Li Guangjie) is the type that would use Bai as an example to turn yaojing-kind more against humanity.

The movie spends its first half moving way too fast to be a semi-serious romantic comedy - as much as Bai is a sweet, seemingly-uninhibited knockout in her human form, things move way too fast to really seem like the foundation for true love. But that's fine; she's clearly sincere and isn't reacting to anything that's not in Hanson, even if it is buried under some annoying practicalities right now. It's a fun set-up for madcap adventures, which co-writer/director Xiao Yang supplies, and when it's just asking the audience to roll with its fantastical nuttiness, the movie is a ton of fun. That's especially true when the visual effects and fantasy premise suit each other; Hong Sicong and his team of sexy, fashionable yaojing could have leaped right out of the pages of an over-the-top manga and Xiao owns that rather than trying to make it serious or respectable.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Feng Shaofeng and Liu Yifei are a team with proven chemistry, with Feng recruiting Liu as a co-star. Liu's got what you'd usually call the fun role, playing naive, saying ludicrous things, and otherwise vamping it up; it's kind of tough to come up with a backstory for Bai that fits together, but Liu plows through that with a lot of enthusiasm and charm. Fortunately, Feng isn't stuck playing an excessively sensible wet blanket; Hanson is funny on his own - there's a little bit of the good heart Bai sees in how bad he is at the gigolo thing - and Feng handles being both befuddled and exasperated well. Guo Jingfei is great fun as the cop who is simultaneously cool and a pushover, and Li Guangjie makes a good contrast as an impressively nasty villain without quite seeming like he doesn't belong in the same film.

Of course, the perceived need to have a villain as monstrous as Yun turns out to be the movie's biggest problem. Sure, there's inevitably going to be some story around folks not wanting Hanson and Bai to be together, but Yun's ambitions seem bigger than that, and it doesn't quite mesh with Bai trying to convince Hanson rather than them already being together. So there's characters tormented for non-comedic effect and a big, chaotic final battle that really doesn't seem to be in the spirit of the thing (although some of the effects around it are better than the a rooftop chase that has some really dodgy digital stuntmen). It's not bad, as those things go - the film still has enough sense of the absurd to have a talking dog anchoring the live news coverage of the action - just not the sort of thing this movie needs.

Fortunately, the ending points to a sequel more in line with the things that the film does well, and it does those things well enough that the stretch where it stumbles is not nearly enough to counter how much enjoyable it is when it's having fun as opposed to trying to convince the audience that one world or another is in danger.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=31987&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/08/18 13:18:34
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USA
  05-Jan-2018

UK
  N/A

Australia
  05-Jan-2018


Directed by
  Yang Xiao

Written by
  Yang Xiao

Cast
  Shaofeng Feng
  Yifei Liu
  Guangjie Li
  Jingfei Guo



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