Berlinale Bloggers 2018
Hunting for a Global Blockbuster
Monster Hunt 2 will have its European premiere in Berlinale Special. It is the sequel to Monster Hunt (2015), the highest grossing film in China of all times up until it was overtaken by Stephen Chou Sing-chi’s The Mermaid in 2016. With almost tripled production costs, Monster Hunt 2 promises more special effects, more animated monsters, and more stars including Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
By Yun-hua Chen
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is without a doubt one of Asia’s most accomplished actors, so seeing him on the red carpet of the Berlinale four years after he was part of the Berlinale jury is of course something we all look forward to. It is also fantastic to see at least one Chinese film in one of the main Berlinale section. Monster Hunt 2 (捉妖记), however, comes as an unexpected choice at the Berlinale. Its director Raman Hui tends to feel at home in Hollywood where he co-directed Shrek the Third (2007) among other credits with DreamWorks Animation, but not so much in the festival world. In the Specials section, Raman Hui will share a stage with arthouse film favorites such as Fernando E. Solanas or often awarded Isabel Coixet. Sure, the Monster Hunt sequel promises to draw big crowds, especially in China, but isn’t it too commercially-minded compared to the rest of the program? What is Monster Hunt 2 exactly?
Continuing where Monster Hunt left off – in a world where monsters live among humans – the kind and somewhat cute monster Wuba embarks on an adventure away from home, during which it meets a gambler played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and another cute monster, while being chased by bad people and evil monsters equally. It is a kid-friendly 3D fantasy costume film with its fair share of martial art, action, comedy and adventure, blending CGI animation and live action. As we can see from the long list of genres included in this one single film, it attempts to appeal to audiences of all ages and with different tastes through a pell-mell of genre combinations. Unsurprisingly it runs the danger of being jack of all trades, master of none.
So far, so familiar. But the question that is on everyone’s mind is: will the film appeal to European and American audiences? Two years ago, Monster Hunt only cashed in about 21 thousand dollars in the US box office. Back then, explanations on offer included cultural discrepancies – especially in terms of its humor –, the genre of Chinese costume drama, limited theatrical release, and a lack of recognizable faces. After having watched the sequel, I have little reason to believe that this film will succeed in overcoming those very obstacles. Whereas Hollywood-made fantasy films like Star Wars, Star Trek, Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy manage to dominate various non-US markets, it is still difficult for Chinese blockbusters to acquire a similar status of cultural hegemony abroad while cultivating the domestic market at the same time.
Even if Monster Hunt 2 is not as well received at the Berlinale as the production team want to see, the media coverage at one of the three most important film festivals in the world will certainly boost its exposure back in China and add up to the team’s brilliant marketing achievements. The timing of European premiere at the Berlinale perfectly corresponds with its premiere in China on Chinese New Year 16 February 2018, the highest grossing season for the film industry in China. Among Monster Hunt 2’s partnership with 60 consumer brands, the most interesting case is McDonald’s. In China, fans of Wuba will be able to enjoy a hamburger made with Chinese steamed bread and printed with Wuba’s face and chicken-nuggets which look like a monster in a McDonald’s branch decorated like the film set of Wuba’s town. Having invested a lot of money in this joint marketing effort, their joint TV advertisement was shot by the same CGI team and has exactly the same expensive look. There is also a plan for a Monster Hunt-themed adventure park in the making.
If we disregard Monster Hunt 2’s artistic value and its contribution to the Berlinale, the Monster Hunt team’s ambition of developing an original Chinese franchise, which can maintain its commercial value for decades and acquire similar status to the never-aging Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, is very impressive. Their strategy of inventing a durable brand, aligning itself to the global film market and creating cross-sector commercial value also seems the right way to go for Chinese commercial film industry. At the time of writing, the film pre-sold around 7.8 million US Dollars worth in tickets for its opening day in China already.