Monster Hunt 2’s Raman Hui on making biggest box office hit in China over the Chinese New Year weekend

Hong Kong animator says film’s secret is its appeal to viewers of all ages, and denies cranking out a sequel just to cash in on the success of 2015’s Monster Hunt; he confirms he’s eyeing a Monster Hunt 3 but there’s no script yet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 6:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 6:45am

When Hong Kong animation director Raman Hui Shing-ngai returned home after a 20-year spell in Hollywood to make 2015’s Monster Hunt , not even in his wildest dreams did he imagine how well the film would perform. The tale of monsters and humans was a phenomenal success, grossing 2.44 billion yuan (US$384 million) in China alone.

“It was a surprise,” Hui admits when we meet in a rooftop restaurant during the Berlin International Film Festival. “I was hoping that it would break even. Nobody thought that the box office would go that high because that doesn’t happen with Chinese films.”

Modesty would appear to be Hui’s default setting. His sequel Monster Hunt 2 , which opened in China (and Hong Kong) on Friday, took an impressive 1.23 billion yuan (US$198.2 million) at the box office in its first three days, according to film market research firm EntGroup.

So what does Hui make of Monster Hunt 2’s strong start? “So far it’s looking good,” he says with a smile. “It feels like it will get to be like the first film.”

Having taken half of Monster Hunt’s entire Chinese gross in just three days, the sequel should easily eclipse its total takings – although it will have a long way to go before overhauling the record 5.68 billion yuan that Wolf Warrior 2 took at the Chinese box office. But while that was an action film aimed at the adult market, Monster Hunt 2 crosses all demographics.

Wu Jing on Wolf Warrior 2’s record-breaking run, his cinematic roots in Hong Kong and Wolf Warrior 3’s story direction

“Kids that are four years old, they can understand the movie,” says Hui. “Grandparents, in their seventies, they can enjoy it too.”

That’s a lot of potential ticket buyers. Factor in the thirst for merchandise – dolls, stationery and more besides – and it’s clear Monster Hunt 2 is likely to provide a vast revenue stream for its Hong Kong backer Edko Films; Lionsgate released the film in the United States.

The film has also just played at the Berlin International Film Festival, out of competition, allowing international audiences an early chance to see it.

The sequel continues the adventures of Wuba, a cute, four-armed baby monster who is separated from his human parents (Bai Baihe and Jing Boran). With a trio of new screenwriters (Jack Ng, Sunny Chan and Su Liang) coming in after the departure of Alan Yuen, who scripted Monster Hunt, the working environment was “a bit more” pressurised, Hui admits.

“Because the first one, no one knew what this was about. This one, everyone is expecting,” the director says. Nevertheless, he denies that the film was cranked out to capitalise on the first movie’s success. “We didn’t want to rush it. If we rushed it, the visual effects wouldn’t look as good.”

How creative mind behind Shrek finally made his Hong Kong movie

Hui points to the fact that he decided not to deliver a 3D version of the film this time, unlike its predecessor. “This one, I had a choice of making it 3D or doing more visual effects shots, so I picked [one]. I’d rather do more special effects.”

Indeed, Monster Hunt 2 follows the well-trodden path of sequels, with more to feast your eyes on.

“It’s more complicated [than the first film],” says Hui. “We added more monsters and more interaction with humans and I was more comfortable having the actors interact with the monsters too.

“The first one, I was a little scared [about] how the interaction would work. But this time, the actors can hold Wuba and when you watch it, you feel like the monster is really there.”

Then there’s the addition of Tony Leung Chiu-wai to the cast. For international audiences used to seeing him in films such as Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and The Grandmaster, it’s something of a novelty to see him larking around as Tu Sigu, a roguish con artist who teams up with Wuba.

Leung is a newcomer to such CGI-heavy films. “Sometimes, he would ask to do something that we’re not prepared for,” says Hui, explaining that the actor might suggest something casual – like his character leaning on a monster – that in reality needed much preparation.

Film review: Monster Hunt (2015) is a distinctly Chinese live-action debut

Hui worked with a number of visual effects companies, including US outfit Industrial Light & Magic. His American contacts stem from his time at DreamWorks, where he worked in various roles on films such as Antz and the Shrek franchise; he ultimately co-directed Shrek the Third.

But when it came to Monster Hunt, Hui wasn’t interested in Hollywood remaking his film. “They did ask us after Monster Hunt came out, but Bill [Kong, producer] and I decided that this was not our focus.”

Now his thoughts have turned to a third Monster Hunt film. Will they complete the trilogy? “I hope so,” says Hui. “We don’t have a script yet.” What they do already have is another monster success on their hands.

Monster Hunt 2 is in cinemas now

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook