MONSTER RUN (2020) review

p2617622226After co-directing Full Strike with Derek Kwok, and being visual effects supervisor on most of his other films, Henry Wong graduates to solo director (with Kwok still present as a producer) for Monster Run, the latest high-profile Chinese film to bypass theaters altogether in these times of pandemic. It follows Ji Mo (Jessie Li), a young woman who spent the past few years in a mental hospital to treat her diagnosed paranoid personality disorder: as a child, she would have visions of monsters. Having found a job in a convenience store, she’s hoping for an ordinary life and copes with the visions of monster, which haven’t subsided. Until one day, Meng (Shawn Yue) barges in the store with his partner Paper (a living piece of paper voiced by Qiao Shan) and hunts down a monster right in front of her. It turns out the monsters are real: they’re from an alternate dimension, and Meng’s mission is to stop them from coming into this world. Soon, a bond forms between the monter hunter and the young clairvoyant, but the sinister Lotus (Kara Hui), powerful guardian of the frontier between the two dimensions, has nefarious plans for Ji Mo…

Despite a modern setting, which harks back a bit to Ghostbusters but is still a rather fresh angle for Chinese fantasy, Monster Run falls into many of the usual pitfalls of that genre. The narrative is thankfully more focused than most Chinese fantasy films, concentrating on a handful of characters rather than constantly introducing new ones. But the visuals have the usual dichotomy: inspired production design, a few amusing ideas (Paper, the paper creature, is hilarious) and some stunning fantasy landscapes (the parallel dimension is a superb M.C. Escher-like maze), but creatures that look much better in repose than in motion or in jerky, weightless fights. Most damningly though (and it’s the most common issue in the genre), Monster Run just keeps making up its own rules as it goes, using Taoist-like charms (these magical scribbled papers familiar to fans of Hong Kong Goeng Si films) as plot devices: there’s simply a different one for each narrative impasse the writers encounter; the same goes for convenient prophecies and arbitrary new powers, moving the plot along just as they weaken the drama. The finale is a rushed salad of such contrivances, wasting the great Kara Hui as first-class villainess. There’s passable chemistry between Shawn Yue and Jessie Li, though the gruff hunter who reluctantly takes on a wide-eyed but gifted partner is a hardly novel idea.

Long Story Short: A routine Chinese fantasy film spiced up with occasionally inspired production design. **

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2 Comments

  1. 2 stars!! ;-) :-D

    Reply

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