Despite picking up right after where the first film left off, 'Monster Hunt 2' still feels like a dull retread of its predecessor.
Once again, the irresistibly cute baby monster Wuba finds himself pursued by nefarious humans and demons alike, setting the stage for a showdown where his two human parents, Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) and Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe), will wage battle with those who seek to exploit him for their own selfish means.
One group pursuing Wuba is led by the veteran monster hunter Yun Qing (Yo Yang), through whom Tianyin and Xiaolan will learn of a Bureau of Monster Hunters where rogue demons that cause mischief and/or havoc upon humankind are kept in lockup. At first, the very addition of the Bureau seems like an attempt by returning director Raman Hui and his trio of writers - Alan Yuen, Chan Wing-sun and Su Liang - to expand the mythical world of medieval China that they had created in the first instalment. Alas, without giving anything away, let's just say that the lavish art direction by Hui's cross-cultural team (comprising of Li Jianwei, Guillaume Aretos and Yohei Taneda) is unfortunately wasted by the time Yun Qing and his Bureau henchmen's true identity is revealed, a twist that seems lazily transplanted from the earlier film.
Another group is led by the notorious gambler Tu Sigu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), who wants Wuba as repayment for his debts to the female Boss Chu (Li Yuchun). By chance, Tu makes Wuba's acquaintance early on, but seeing no inherent value in the radish-like monster, kicks him off into the forest. Upon learning that Boss Chu is willing to release him from his debts, Tu sets off to search for Wuba, assisted by his loyal tubby monster assistant Ben-Ben. It is no surprise that he and Wuba will forge a connection during the course of the movie, so much so that he will have second thoughts about giving Wuba away to his creditor. Indeed, Wuba represents an amusing reckoning for the do-no-gooder whose relationships have been based on deceit and/or exploitation, and by the time the noisy CGI-heavy climax rolls along, Tu will have joined Tianyin and Xiaolan in protecting the son of the former monster king.
Compared to the original, the plotting here seems needlessly convoluted yet underdeveloped. We've already mentioned about how the Bureau is but a farce; ditto the scenes between Xiaolan and a smitten weapons craftsmith (Huang Lei) that the former meets at the Bureau, which serve little purpose than to get Tianyin jealous. Tu's redemption is a nice change, but too many scenes of his seem extended to pad out the duration of the movie - there are two throwaway scenes of him working in cahoots with monsters to cheat in a casino; there is another throwaway scene of Boss Chu forcing him to honour his agreement that he will marry her; and there is yet another two chase sequences through the narrow streets of Clear Water Town where most of the action takes place which sees him try to evade those he had just swindled at the casino. Tu's own character arc ends up taking more screen time than the hunt for Wuba itself, and although Tony Leung brings a delightfully wily charm to the movie, it simply makes the whole narrative even more distracted.
It doesn't help that Hui seems content to let his sequel be dominated by frenetic sequences, most of which are hardly as inspired as that in the first movie. Too much time is simply spent running around haphazardly, without proper regard of how to make these scenes episodes of inspired comic mayhem. One involving a magic show where Tu ends up on the chopping block and later on in a box where he is to be sawn in half is yet again symptomatic of how busy yet uninvolving the onscreen chaos tends to unfold. Even the climax offers no consolation, coming off tired, hectic and yet oddly tedious. The only bright spot is a screwball sequence somewhere in the middle that sees Ben-Ben troll Tu while he is meeting with Boss Chu by frightening Wuba, taking advantage of how anyone whom Wuba has spitted on gets to see in his moment of fright just what he is seeing, which also in return messes with Tianyin's attempt to get intimate with Tianyin.
To be frank, we were looking forward to 'Monster Hunt 2' only because of Wuba, and we're quite sure we aren't alone with that sentiment. Although the story still is ostensibly driven by Wuba, there are simply too many 'human' distractions that detract from what was the series' most endearing element. Oh yes, Wuba is still as adorable as ever, but it is also somewhat disappointing that there isn't any elaboration whatsoever on how he is intended to fulfil that prophecy of bridging the human and monster worlds. Instead, the filmmakers are content to simply let him spit more stuff out of his mouth like cannonballs or flail his arms about, while rehashing the same old shtick from the first movie. Even then, it is a lot less funny, a lot less engaging and a lot less entertaining this time round, and you'll probably do better to revisit the first movie than hunt down this sequel.