The “Birth” of a Box-Office Monster

July 31, 2015

Los Angeles Times Beijing Reporter Julie Makinen’s article about how the record-setting film Monster Hunt was born reveals the volatile nature of filmmaking in today’s China, which is even true for a seemingly safe and family-friendly live-action/animation hybrid. Here are some excerpts:

China's summer popcorn movie "Monster Hunt," directed by Raman Hui and produced by Bill Kong, becomes the top-grossing Chinese movie of all time, earning more than US$250 million domestically.

China’s summer popcorn movie “Monster Hunt,” directed by Raman Hui and produced by Bill Kong, becomes the top-grossing Chinese movie of all time, earning more than US$250 million domestically.

Monster Hunt (捉妖记), a new Chinese family film that features real-life actors interacting with computer-animated monsters, has shattered box-office records on the mainland this month, earning more than $250 million and becoming the top-grossing Chinese movie of all time.

But about nine months ago, director Raman Hui (许诚毅) was literally in tears, unsure how he would ever bring his dream movie to screen.

The Hong Kong native had considerable Hollywood experience, having worked on DreamWorks Animation films including Antz, Shrek and Shrek 2, and even co-directing Shrek the Third. Yet whatever challenges Hui had faced over the years in dealing with the grumpy green ogre, one major upside of a cartoon leading man like Shrek is that he can never get busted on drug charges and throw an entire production into jeopardy.

That, however, is precisely what happened on Monster Hunt. And how the production bounced back is a remarkable tale of determination and hustle in China’s rough-and-tumble movie market, where box-office receipts are surging but regulations are often vague and unevenly applied.

Produced by Bill Kong (江志强, known for critical and commercial hits such as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero), Monster Hunt had finished shooting in 2013. By last summer, the sets had been junked and the special effects were about 70% done.

Then suddenly, Hui’s star, Taiwanese actor and singer Kai Ko (柯震东), was arrested in Beijing in August 2014 and admitted using marijuana. Hui — who had never before directed a movie in China, nor one with live actors on screen — initially figured the situation and attendant bad publicity would just delay the release a little from its planned opening in February 2015, during the prime Chinese New Year holiday.

“My first reaction was, oh … that means I’ll have more time to make the special effects even better,” recalled the bubbly, compact Hui, who looks far younger than his 52 years. “Silly me!”

One day last fall, Hui’s phone rang while he was reviewing some special-effects shots.

It was producer Doris Tse. She and Kong, who had shepherded the project since its inception around 2008, had come to a decision. Morals-minded mainland Chinese authorities seemed unwilling to allow the showing of a film with a drug-using headliner anytime soon. “She called to say, ‘I think we are serious about reshooting,'” recalled Hui.

It would be a massive undertaking costing millions of dollars; they would have to refilm 70% and redo 25% of the special-effects work, call back the cast and crew, find a new leading man and rebuild sets. Kong was hoping it could all be done in time for a July 2015 release.

Hui hung up and went back to work. “After two shots, we looked at one [scene] with no actors, just monsters. And my reaction was, OK, this shot is safe. We don’t have to change this,” he remembered. “Then I started crying. I just burst out in tears.”…

For the whole article about how Hui was able to pull off, please go Here.