Zhuo yao ji 2 (Monster Hunt 2): An interview with director Raman Hui
The newest wild ride from the mind of Shrek co-creator Raman Hui has striking visuals, a playful score and lightning-fast fight sequences that will surely please worldwide audiences. Zhuo yao ji 2 (Monster Hunt 2) follows the solo journey of the radish-shaped baby monster Wuba who is being tracked by various factions, monsters and even his human parents. We sat down with the director to discuss his new film.
How closely did you work with the screenwriters?
I worked with them very closely. I mean not every day, I mean they need their space. Because we talk a lot, I keep asking, “Do you have something? Do you have something?”. Whenever the writer has something we get together and discuss the script.
Can you talk about Wuba’s relationship with his human parents?
In this one, they come to realize that maybe setting Wuba free at the end of Monster Hunt 1 was not the right choice. If you love someone, even if there are a lot of obstacles, you should be with them.
How do you deal with the pressure of this follow-up film after Monster Hunt was such a huge success?
Well, the pressure is high because sometimes when you have something successful you’re like, “Oh, can I live up to that?”. And I would say that I’m very lucky because I was born in Hong Kong and went to the US when I hit my 20s. I went there in 89, and I was at Dreamworks for a long time. At that time I didn’t think that I would be able to come back to Asia, to make movies for Asia because during that time the market wasn’t that big. They couldn’t afford to make a movie for a few years. That was the 90s. Even in the early 2000s we didn’t think we would have the budget. I would say that I’m lucky; I got a chance to come back to China and do that.
What was the budget for this film? The visuals look amazing.
Actually, I don’t know because it was the same thing at Dreamworks. We never asked about a budget. We look at budgets more like resources. They tell me that I have to finish shooting by this day, you can not shoot another week. And then I know that is the limit of the budget. It was the same for this film in China. They have been very generous.
Are there certain elements that you need to have in order to make successful movies in Asia?
Well, I don’t think there is one thing. You can not say that if you do A and B then you will be successful. I hope it never works that way, even for us. It’s never like that. While working on Monster Hunt 1, we were so nervous because we didn’t know if the audience would accept that. We thought, at the time, that we should do it otherwise no one is going to make something like that. So we, with Bill Kong, who is so brave and supports everything, we went ahead and did it. Then we didn’t expect it to be a huge success. I was just hoping that if Bill can break even at least he’s not losing a lot of money. But it turned out to be a huge success and then I could do it again.
Hopefully he appreciates you being so concerned about him not losing any money. I’m not sure that all directors think along those lines.
Well, I think it comes from my Asian background. You kind of want to be… I don’t think everybody is like that, but for me I think that I should be responsible.
Do you think that you can do things in Chinese productions that you wouldn’t be able to do in Hollywood?
Well, for Monster Hunt 1, the guy getting pregnant in that way. They have done that before with Schwarzenegger. Except in Monster Hunt the egg was forced “eh!” but then it was inside of him. But anyway, there is just stuff that might be culturally just a little different. Actually in Monster Hunt 2 there is not too much of that so when an American audience watches it, it’ll seem fine. But in Monster Hunt 1 there is one scene when he gave birth, it was more like a comedy because they thought it was going to be like giving birth but then they didn’t know where it’s going to come out. In the end…he just pukes it out.
Tony Leung is amazing. Western audiences have seen him take on mostly serious roles. Can you talk about how it was working with him in comedy?
He has done comedy roles in Chinese movies before. Not a lot but he has done a few. He has also done comic roles in TV and dramas before movies so we knew he could do it… if he was willing to do it. So we were a little sceptical when we talked to him, if he would agree to do it. We were so lucky when he read the script, he said, “Hey, that’s interesting. I don’t mind doing it”. He’s a great, great actor to work with. So nice, very polite, very together. And there was no, “What’s he doing?”. I’ve learnt so much from working with him. Tony Leung is amazing. And everyone, all the other actors, loved working with him. I got complaints from everyone, “How come I don’t have more scenes with Tony?”. You can imagine that.
He’s probably very patient after having worked so many times with Wong Kar-Wai.
You know, at the end he did say when we finished shooting, he was like, “We’re done?… But, but I thought we are going to spend more time”.
Sometimes when you have the chance to do a second movie in a series you have the chance to tweak or do something differently. What things did you tweak in Monster Hunt 2?
I’m more experienced in terms of shooting, handling and understanding the shooting so I was a little more prepared. Because when I did the first movie they might ask me, “Raman, how long do you think it will take us to shoot those two pages?”. I would have no idea because in my mind I would think, well, in animation, it would take three months, so to shoot this, maybe two weeks. I would give an answer like that, and they would be like “What?” (laughs). Now I know I should say one day, it should be one day. It’s just two pages of simple acting dialogue. So I’m more experienced in terms of that.
Because the process is very different from animation.
Yeah, it’s totally different. It’s more instant, more spontaneous. And also directing the actors is very different. At first I was talking to actors like I was talking to animators.
How did that work for you?
It doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Because when I first did that I was so happy because they did exactly what I said. For example, I would ask an actor, “Why don’t you walk a second longer, and then when you stop there, tilt your head a little bit more along the Z-Axis. And then when you smile, the corner of your mouth can go a little bit higher”. Like, I would do in animation…when the actor did it like that, wow he did everything that I said. But then when I looked at the playback, it felt a bit robotic because he was thinking about all those technical terms. So I don’t do that anymore. I just talk to them about the state of mind of their character, how their character should feel, so I know better now. With animation even if they do something weird with their body we don’t mind because we just want their voice.
Everybody wants into China. Some Hollywood films get sequels just because of the Chinese market. Do you feel that it’s too competitive for local Chinese productions to stake their claim?
Well, I think that it’s fine for other movies to come in. I think that audiences would make their choices. All this would have to go through the filtering or the process of “Does this match?”. It’s the same thing. If I just opened a Chinese restaurant here and just cooked the way I would cook in Hong Kong the German customers might not like it. I was in India for two years when Dreamworks sent me there. They took me to a Chinese restaurant but after I tasted it I thought I was eating Indian food. So you need that ability to adapt, to merge or think with the Chinese audience. Sometimes Blockbuster movies tend to think big because there’s a lot of visual stuff. Then sometimes American comedies might be harder because they don’t get the jokes. And vice versa.
What is your working relationship with Dreamworks now that you have left?
I was still doing stuff with Dreamworks until last October, maybe September. I was still doing some animation consulting for a show that they were producing. And then after that I didn’t do it anymore. But I still have a lot of friends there. I would still like to call myself a Dreamworks employee but I’m not anymore. I still have the badge, but I don’t think I can go in. My friends are still there so I still know what’s going on.
Do you plan on doing a third film in this series?
We are talking about it. It could be my next project. It depends on Bill Kong, the boss.
Other than that, do you have any other projects you are working on?
I’m hoping to do another project with Tony Leung. We still don’t know what yet, but we are talking about working together again. It could be anything. Ideally, I’d love to make a movie without any special effects. It takes too long. You never know.
Do you have any aspirations to write your own material?
I usually don’t write my own script. I find it hard because I might not be objective enough. So I like to work with writers instead of writing myself. Because sometimes when I wrote something I feel, “ugh”. I don’t know why. You know what I mean? But when you read someone else you can be more objective and then you can appreciate it more. I think that’s just me, not all directors are like that.
Who are some directors whom you really admire?
Spielberg, Ang Lee, James Cameron…
And what about Chinese directors?
Zhang Yimou (Hero), Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine). Those are great directors. I wish that I am learning to be more like them. And also the Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan. David Fincher and David Lynch too.
Zhuo yao ji 2 (Monster Hunt 2) is released nationwide on 23rd February 2018. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.