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Monster Hunt 2
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by Jay Seaver

"Less plot, but more and better monsters."
4 stars

There are many sorts of sequels, all with their various merits - the serialized story, the shifting genres, the attempt to recapture the same magic but with more resources. "Monster Hunt 2" definitely falls into the "more of the first" category of sequel, with a story that is often vague enough that it like some combination of treading water until a climactic third part or only having time for a loose outline before shooting because the filmmakers knew they'd have to leave time for visual effects in order to hit a Chinese New Year release date. That's okay; that first was pretty good and this doesn't throw much of it away to get Wuba and his human foster parents together again.

As it opens, Wuba and many of the other monsters in the human world are living in a new Village of Peace in the woods, and while young monster hunters Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) and Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) miss the little tentacled radish, they know he would not have been safe with them. It turns out he's not safe in the village either, as it's attacked and his guardians (Sandra Ng Kwan-yue & Eric Tsang Chi-wai) just barely help him to escape. Fortunately, he meets up with BenBen, an adult member of his species, albeit one who works with con artist and gambling addict Tu Sigu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), who owes a lot of money to loan shark Zhu Jinzhen (Li Yuchun), and though she'd accept his hand in marriage instead, he'd probably rather have the cash bounty on Wuba's head. Meanwhile, not realizing Wuba is in danger, Xiaolan and Tianyin are starting to have certain qualms about the Monster Hunters' Bureau - for every rising young star like Yun Qing (Tony "Yo" Yang Yo-ning), there seem to be a lot of people just as happy to kill monsters as capture them.

Unlike a lot of sequels trying to scratch the same itch as their predecessors, Monster Hunt 2 opts to shake up the cast rather than bringing everyone back to repeat the same catchphrases, and this actually turns out to be a strength for the new movie. Bai Baihe and Jing Boran are back as Xiaolian and Tianyin, although they've got an easier, less contentious chemistry that comes from the tomboyish Xiaolian and the emotive Tianyin mostly accepting themselves as an odd couple rather than making any serious attempt for an interloper to get between them (in fact, Xiaolin more-or-less ignoring any attempt in that direction is something of a running joke). There's an enjoyable new group of supporting characters, from Da Peng as the Bureau's Q-equivalent (the one with the crush on Xiaolin) to the ever-reliable Tony Leung Chiu-wai as Tu. Leung plays the sort of scoundrel that is still worthy of his money-lender's affection, with Li Yuchun having fun chewing the scenery in that role.

In fact, it seems like the purpose of this film is more to introduce these new characters than actually do anything with the danger to Wuba that's carried over from the first movie into the second one's opening (he is the rightful heir to the monster kingdom, and not just a super-cute creature). The filmmakers keep the characters busy enough, and the material works well for the sort of movie this is, whether it's Tianyin and Xiaolan trying to reunite runaway kid monster Spiky with his mother when the other hunters are ready to kill or Tu randomly selecting peculiar tortures to be subjected to unless he pays up; those looking for much expansion of the <I>Monster Hunt</I> mythology will have to wait. It's fun, light-hearted, and basically kid-friendly material, cuteness and absurdity where nobody really gets hurt. There's more pee and fart jokes, sure, but Yo Yang's reaction to them is aces, and it beats the threat of cute monsters being murdered, sliced up, and eaten that the first offered.

And the goofiness and what story there is leads to a finale that is actually pretty impressive - the "boss battle" is well-choreographed and rendered even with a lot of CGI, and would probably look pretty neat in 3D even though Lionsgate doesn't seem to be releasing it that way, but it's just a half-step less frantic than many are, less likely to overload kids or confuse adults than it might be. The effects work in general is a marked step up from the original, with Industrial Lights & Magic credited and returning director Raman Hui - who had a long career in animation, notably at DreamWorks, before making these films - apparently feeling much more confident about mixing his live-action and animated characters. It's a great-looking movie without qualification, as slick and well-produced as anything else in the multiplex, down to production design that should feel enjoyably fresh for non-Chinese audience and well-done if it's closer to home.

The series is a massive hit in China, with this entry already setting records despite its opening weekend not yet being complete, so third and fourth entries are already being planned, and it's not inconceivable that they could play to larger audiences in the west than their current Chinatown-targeted releases. They may not be genre-transcendingly-great family adventures, but they're entertaining, certainly worth checking out.

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originally posted: 02/19/18 02:14:07
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  16-Feb-2018 (PG)

Directed by
  Raman Hui

Written by
  Jack Ng
  Sunny Chan
  Su Liang

  Baihe Bai
  Boran Jing
  Yo Yang
  Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
  Yuchun Li

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